Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Students make interactive sphere for Amsterdam Light Festival

4 Dec 2014 13:08 | Communication

For the Amsterdam Light Festival, eight students of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) are making a large illuminated sphere that uses colours to reflect the mood of the city. From Thursday, 27 November, the sphere can be found beside the Torontobrug, the bridge across the River Amstel leading to Stadhouderskade.

Students of the Schools of Technology and Digital Media and Creative Industry are working on the light installation in collaboration with researchers from the Citizen Data Lab and with Rogier van der Heide, artistic director of the Amsterdam Light Festival. Known as the Amsterdam Sphere, the installation is illuminated in different colours, according to the mood of the city. This way anyone driving onto the bridge can see how the city is feeling that day.

Students of the Architecture, Product Design and Commercial Economics programmes have made the steel framework measuring three by three metres, on which thousands of LED lights have been installed. Three Computer Technology students developed the interactive component of this work of art.


The mood of Amsterdam

Computer Technology students Joppe Lauriks, Bastiaan Feenstra and Bas van Otterloo explain how it works: “There are actually three parts in our set-up: an external server, minicomputer and USB microcontroller. The external server analyses all the tweets to which the geolocation of Amsterdam has been added, and all tweets containing #Amsterdam. The server then converts the ‘mood’ of Amsterdam into an average mood, which our  mini computer (a Raspberry PI) requests every five minutes by means of a mobile internet connection. This average correlates to one of many movies that can be played on the sphere. These movies, made by other students to match the moods perfectly, have been converted by us to an encoding each individual LED (from the total of 4.800 LED's) understands. Now the movie is sent to the USB microcontroller, frame by frame at about 30 frames per second, which relays this to all the LED's immediately. So in the end we are actually playing a movie on a huge spherical screen, that matches the current mood of Amsterdam and makes it look so beautiful.”

So if lots of people twitter #happy or #smile, the sphere is illuminated in cheerful colours. The sphere changes colours all day long. The more messages are sent, the more intensely the lights fluctuate.

Not afraid of data 

The Amsterdam Light Festival attracts around half a million visitors each year. Artistic director Rogier van der Heide is enthusiastic about the work of art: “The link to the city is something new at the festival. We received around 1000 entries, but hardly anyone came up with the idea of creating an interactive piece. We developed this idea along with the students and researchers. By doing so we are demonstrating that the use of data can also produce something beautiful, and that it does not have to be perceived as intimidating.”

The Amsterdam Sphere will be on display until the 18th of January – just before Blue Monday, an excellent opportunity to see what mood the city is in.

The Citizen Data Lab focuses on data analysis for citizen empowerment. Citizen Data Lab is part of the AUAS CREATE-IT Centre for Applied Research and the Amsterdam Creative Industries Network (a collaboration between the Amsterdam School of the Arts, Inholland University of Applied Sciences and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences).