Hacking Ginormous Public Art to Make it More Interactive
New American Public Art thinks about how to grow the public space in a city, specifically through interactivity. Sometimes it begins with hacking something people are familiar with, but never imagined they could control.
As interactive artists, we thought “How cool would it be if anyone could control them?” We decided that interaction via SMS text message would be the best way, and after many challenges and obstacles, that’s finally a reality.
Some of the technological achievements of this project:
 Connect light blades to Greenway WIFI with the Rascal, a Python-running microcontroller with a built in web server
 Link the Rascal to our server in New Jersey (connected to Twilio) to receive text messages
When you send a text, the server sends the message to the Rascal. If it is a color, the Rascal translates it to a trigger code and sends it to the iPlayer’s RS-232 port to change the colors on the Light Blades.
We dreamed of creating a simple language to program patterns on the blades, making it open source, and seeing how others tweak it. Due to the closed nature of the iPlayer, we couldn’t implement this as we desired. Regardless, we’re happy we got this far. It was a year in the making, beginning with negotiations with the City of Boston and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and culminating tomorrow night.
On Thursday we’ll have the opening on the Greenway, and will unveil the phone number to text. Be friends with the Light Blades on Facebook for updates and secrets codes that activate different effects.
We’re thankful for all the help we’ve had at the Greenway. Now anyone with access to a mobile phone can change the colors of these blades.
You can check out the source code here:
For more technical details, see Brandon’s write-up on the Rascal website.
Follow us on twitter here. We’ll post of a video of the piece tomorrow after the opening.