Controlling the behavior of light with a physics simulator

This installation is like a rollercoaster of lights.

Created by Madrid creative studio Espadaysantacruz, Light Kinetics is an interactive installation where light behaves as matter under the laws of mechanics.


The project is comprised of 78 tungsten bulbs connected to a rack of 20 four-channel DMX dimmers, all of which are controlled by a physics simulator built with Unity3D. An Atmel based Arduino was employed to capture the impulses, while Processing was used to interface between Unity3D and the dimmers.


How it works is relatively simple. A piezoelectric sensor situated in the first bulb captures the force of a tap, generating a light particle that moves along the loop. The initial impulse is regulated by the strength of the tap, creating a very natural interaction. Adding more strength behind the touch causes the light to move faster and can overcome the force of gravity. Conversely, when one presses the bulb softly, light falls slowly along the loop.


“Light, as we usually see it, is an element that lacks mass, to treat it under the laws of gravity is somehow magical. The laws that describe the behaviour of light are hardly understandable because it neither behaves as body or as a wave,” ___ writes. “As Einstein wrote concerning the wave-particle duality: ‘We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.’ In this project, we have built a computer simulator that reduces this extraordinary phenomenon to the simple classical mechanical laws.”

Interested in learning more? Head over to the project’s official page. In the meantime, you can watch it in action below.

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