Twinkle, Twinkle, Giant Span: 25K Controllable LEDs to Illuminate SF’s Bay Bridge Tuesday

Bay bridge

Villareal uses algorithms to create moving patterns with the lights. Photo: Vincent Fournier


Bay bridge map

The Bay Bridge—which connects San Francisco to Oakland—doesn’t get much love. It’s longer, stronger, and carries more traffic than the Golden Gate, and yet by comparison to its International Orange-painted sibling, it’s basically invisible. But this spring the Bay Bridge will get its moment to shine, courtesy of more than 25,000 LEDs strung along the vertical wires connecting the deck of the 1.8-mile-long western span to the suspension cables hanging from its towers.

Bay Lights, Explained

Bay Bridge Lights Explained

More than 25,000 networked LEDs are attached 12 inches apart on 300 vertical cables and held in place by zip ties and specially designed, 3-D- printed clips.

The lights—each individually controllable with 255 levels of brightness, will together form an animated screen visible to 50 million people over the two years it’ll be active. In fact, depending on how you measure such things, the project—called the Bay Lights—will be the biggest public light sculpture in the world.

Bay Bridge Lights Explained

But what to do with that vast, illuminated canvas? According to artist Leo Villareal, sequencing the lights to make patterns that move in novel ways was his biggest challenge. “It’s not going to be a light show. It’s not using lights like they’re used in advertising. It’s not fireworks,” he says. “It’s a new way of bringing digital into the world.” OK, but what does that mean? On the bridge during the installation, Villareal had to think about it for a moment. Finally he hit on an answer, smiling: “Software in the sky.

To view accompanying video, click here.

Written by Adam Fisher on March 4, 2013 for To view the original article, click here.

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