Maker Faire Project: 20x10 foot RGB Chinese lanterns with 450 watts of LEDs

My project for Maker Faire this year was a grid of high brightness LEDs inside nylon Chinese lanterns, suspended from the ceiling of the exhibit space. We had two 10x10 foot popup canopies with the lanterns mounted above a lounge area with couches and music. Each lantern was controllable 24bit RGB, and the 16x8 grid displayed Processing audio-reactive animations. Tangible Interaction did a similar project for New Years 2011, which inspired us to put together this system for Maker Faire.


  • (2) black 10x10 popup canopies
  • (16) OctoBar LED controllers
  • (128) Satellite S-001 RGB LED arrays
  • (128) 14" nylon Chinese lanterns
  • (128) 7' modular phone cables
  • (~300) feet of 3/4" PVC tubing
  • (lots) power cable
  • (1) 1000W HP power supply
  • (1) laptop running Processing
  • (1) Arduino Uno (yeah just one!)
  • (1) 32' USB active extender cable

I was actually surprised that it worked as well as it did. The Arduino (just one Arduino for the whole ceiling!) was able to update all 128 lanterns with 8 bits of resolution per color, at 25fps and above. The Arduino was actually reading and checking every RS232 byte, storing values into an array, applying a gamma lookup table, and blasting SPI data out to 128 32-bit registers on a single bus. Processing also ran surprisingly well. The laptop was maybe 4 years old, AMD processor, running Linux. It had no problem computing FFTs and beat detection on incoming audio, rendering all sorts of effects to an area of the screen, downsampling to 16x8, and performing a pixel-to-chain mapping lookup table before constructing an array to send to the Arduino over USB-serial.

Maker Faire was packed, but everyone who managed to fight their way to our exhibit was amazed. It was all I could do to actually talk to visitors instead of stare at the ceiling!

A lot of the Processing effects were sent in by people in the community. They're all credited in the code, thanks! It really helped get the project done on time.

Here's a blog article with more details about the setup (includes Processing and Arduino code): Maker Faire Bay Area 2011 |

Here's a Flickr set for our visit to Maker Faire:

Here are a few photos of the setup:


Looks very nicely done (if expensive :wink: )

I presume it's being dismantled for other projects or are you storing it for other events?
You could probably pass it off as an art exhibit - maybe even make it interactive :slight_smile:

Were there any major issues with it when setting it up/wiring/coding?

Edit: Your blog's a good read - explains most of that :smiley:

We're going to strip it down for parts, trying to get it to an SHDH event at Google in the next month. We started off with 1/4 of the system down on Saturday morning, and planned to fix it Sunday, but some kids came in and wouldn't leave us alone until I climbed up there and fixed it.

The cost was an interesting point of division when talking to people at Maker Faire. Basically...the people who hadn't ever set up lighting systems before were disappointed in the cost, while the lighting professionals were excited by how cheap it was. It's all relative to the way you're going to use it. It's a bit much for single use, for a couple days, but not bad for a permanent installation.

Yeah it's expensive for a hobbyist but I'd agree, cheap for a permanent installation (especially if it's called 'art' :stuck_out_tongue: )

It's around 1800 dollars?

It would be at least $2700 for the electronics and cabling, then you add in the PVC, tents, power supply, lanterns, etc.

Very cool! Did a fire marshal ask you any questions about it? :grin:

He only yelled at us for sticking out into the aisle six inches, they are hardcore about having at least 10 feet. We had to scoot back. I think all the plastic and fabric involved was already treated with fire retardant, not that anyone asked. They didn't seem too worried about the installation where you could aim a high power laser around the floor and set cardboard on fire, either.

very, very nice :slight_smile:

Well in fact is not that expensive, if you don't have to pay it by yourself as hobbyst...
Tottally cool anyway!