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Lights, Power, Data: The Technology Behind the World's Largest LED Light Sculpture

What does it take to get power and data to a one of a kind piece of art in the San Francisco Bay Area? Hundreds of feet of cable, racks of servers and switches, and thousands of programmable LED lights. We take a look at the network infrastructure behind The Bay Lights.

July 07 , 2013

The Bay Lights By The Numbers


• 1.8 miles: length of The Bay Lights from end to end (about 26.4 football fields)
• 100,000: linear feet of cable for power, fiber and Cat 5 wires in the system
• 728: number of power and data boxes used in the light sculpture
• 500 feet: height of the installation to the tallest point
• 300: number of vertical cables on the bridge fitted with LED lights
• $30: cost per day in energy to light the piece


My name is Leo Villareal, and I'm an artist based in New York, and I've created a piece here called The Bay Lights.

It's a light sculpture, and it's 25,000 white LED nodes which are attached to the suspender cables of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Treasure Island.

It's a pretty complex network topography. You wouldn't normally think that a piece of art would need a big network infrastructure.

One of the things people probably won't know about is the 1.8 mile long fiber-optic cable we had to install on the bridge, the giant rack of servers, the switches, all the infrastructure, there were a lot of challenges getting power and data to lights all across the bridge.

Many bridges have been lit around the world, but none quite like this. I think what distinguishes this is that it's intelligent lighting and each node is individually controllable.

This is a sample of the LEDs we are using. These are one inch diameter and they have five small LEDs within it. This is the cable that sends power and data.

So with this piece we can send any of 255 levels of brightness and we can do that 60 times per second per LED, so it's updating pretty quickly.

We've created this software that can make different patterns.

We're using three Mac Mini computers with solid-state hard drives and they're in the central anchorage of the bridge so they generate the patterns and they're on a timer so it goes on at dusk and off at two a.m. Those are connected to big racks of switches.

Cisco has provided some of the network switches that we're using in the bridge and our concern is to make the pieces reliable as possible, so that's the equipment we chose.

Several photographs were taken of the existing cable and then this was 3-D printed.

It was about two and half years from initial idea to completion which is pretty amazing for a project of this scale.

We've estimated that 50 million people will see this piece over two years. Light has this universal quality that anyone can engage with, so you see this and you can have some response whether you know about art or technology, that's not necessary. There's a lot of appeal.


Related Tags: Core Networks , Innovation , Kirsten Chiala

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