Sex and Blinky LEDs At Burning Man

[Bunnie] was at Burning Man this year, and to illuminate his camp members in the dark and dusty nights of the playa, he created a blinky badge. This isn’t just any badge stuffed with RGB LEDs; each of the badges were unique by the end of Burning Man. These badges were made unique not by twiddling dials or pressing buttons; all the color patterns were bred with badge sex.

This social experiment to replicate nature’s most popular means of creating more nature is built around a peer to peer radio. Each badge is equipped with a radio, a circle of RGB LEDs, and a bit of code that expresses the pattern of lights on the badge as a sequence of genes. When one badge gives consent to another badge, they ‘breed’, creating a new pattern of lights. If you’re wondering about the specifics of the act, each badge is a hermaphrodite, and each badge transmits a ‘sperm’ to fertilize the other plant’s ‘egg’. There’s even a rare trait included in the genome of the badge; each badge has a 3% chance of having a white pixel that moves around the circle of LEDs. [Bunnie] found this trait was more common after a few days, suggesting that people were selectively breeding their badges.

Of course, finding potential mates is a paramount concern for any sexual organism, and the sex badge has this covered, too. The 900MHz radio listens for other badges in close proximity, and when any are found their owners are displayed on an OLED display. This came in handy for [Bunnie] more than a few times – there’s no phones out there, and simply knowing your friends are within a hundred meters or so is a big help.

The entire badge platform is documentedĀ online, along with the code and spec for badge genes. Badges with some sort of wireless communication have been around for a while, but this is the first time that communication has been used for something more than sharing contact information or implementing a chat room. It’s a great idea, and something we hope to see more of in future con badges.

14 thoughts on “Sex and Blinky LEDs At Burning Man

      1. I recall an article, probably here, of some hackers who set up a mobile service of their own at BM. Coping with overloading was a problem. They kindly had a link back to the real world, so people could make phone calls outside the BM area. Free of charge, too.

        Even a BM-only phone network would seem useful to set up. Would definitely get some hacker-respect.

  1. A few years ago you needed satellite phones to communicate with the default world. About 4 years ago, cell came to Black Rock. This year w has interweb and all that. (At least on Verizon. 4 bars at Black Rock!). No harm. Enjoyed postings.

  2. Does H.A.D have some sort of commercial relationship with Burning Man? I see loads of projects that include burning man as the inspiration of a hack. Or is it just a big in Cali? Over here where I live in Scotland we have The Wickerman festival about 5 miles from me, Same sort of idea.

    1. The burning man festival was capped at 70,000 this year, and usually sells out. It’ has spawned dozens of smaller burns across the globe – by now there’s probably at least one in every US state each year.

      The general theme is to participate, so everyone is supposed to do something that contributes to the other goers. This means tons and tons of interesting art, performance, and technology.

      I’ve personally seen a 40-foot robot that breaths fire, another that picks up and crushes cars, and a full-sized oil derrick catch fire and burn.

      The number of hacks and interesting technologies cannot be overstated – there are literally hundreds of interesting configurations of gadgets, lighting, sound, art, and other experiences.

      To take a personal example, last year I happened to pass by a 6′ sphere with an internal projector showing the globe on the surface of the sphere, and other moving, animated images.

      …completely seamless. I could find no distortion and no evidence of stitching anywhere around the globe or over the top. (It was on a pedestal base.) I asked the owner and he said it was one of only 2 in existence (at the time), and they were the only company to have accomplished that particular goal, and that it was an incredible engineering feat to pull it off.

      Wickerman appears to be a music festival, where people go to hear big name artists perform.

      Burning man is an art festival (not just music), and people go to see the participants perform.

      I’m not dismissing the excellent Wickerman festival, but the theme and intent is completely different.

      Let me know when Wickerman has something like this:

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