A 23 Feet Tall Pyramid With 0.31 Mile Of LED Strips

This year the Disorient Camp at Burning Man built a 7m tall pyramid with over half a kilometer of LED strips. For this special occasion several artists had developed patterns for this massive LED display, animating the parties happening every night in front of this build.

To handle the dusty environment, a Toughbook was running the pyramid’s main code, which was rendering the animation frames to 24-bit bitmaps and sending them over UDP to the network. For each face of the pyramid, a $45 BeagleBone Black running a dedicated program was slicing the images into the individual panels. Finally, each panel composed of eight WS281x LED strips was driven by a Teensy 3.0 microcontroller, receiving the piece to display by USB from the BeagleBone. To power the pyramid, 5V 40A power supplies were used for the tall panels, 5V 30A power supplies for the smaller ones.

Unsurprisingly, many of the power supplies failed due to the heat and dust.  The adhesive holding the LED strips also failed, and some screw terminals rattled loose from the 25KW sound system, requiring constant maintenance. Nevertheless, the sixteen thousand LEDs sure made quite an impression.

If anyone attending Burning Man managed to capture video of this thing in action we’d love to see it. Leave a link in the comments.

23 thoughts on “A 23 Feet Tall Pyramid With 0.31 Mile Of LED Strips

    1. With two references to size, one imperial and one metric…
      Neither is correct.
      Imperial, properly would be, 23 foot tall (not sure if, like aluminum, Brits don’t know).
      Metric would be a decimal point height 7.0104 meters…
      (although the round off on meters might be very forgivable)

          1. Parent of your comment is making a grammar comment. “foot” sounds more normal, “feet” is awkward. They’re both technically correct, I believe, grammar-wise.

            Ahhhh, English….

    1. Not to diss the rest of the world, but by & large Hackaday in USA centric. 23 feet in the headline US readers a sense of scale, but the actual article mention the 7 meter measurement given in the resistor blog a fair comprise IMO In the event the 23 feet 7 meter rough comparison isn’t good enough for the girls you go out with, probably time to find to girls to hang out with ;)

    1. I was more impressed by the fact that apparently they had an enormous budget for this. Half a kilometer of RGB LED strip at retail pricing, assuming they went for 30-per-meter, at $13/meter, is $6.5k for the LEDs alone.

      Add in the cost of a Toughbook ($2-3k easy? They’re hella expensive), the 4 beaglebones ($120) plus nearly $1k in Teensies…add in the cost of the power supplies, whatever provided the power, the framework, wiring…wouldn’t surprise me if they hit $10k in total costs.

      When I see projects like this, I really have to wonder what happens to all the stuff people build for Burning Man, after Burning Man. It’s all essentially frivolous consumption of resources, and while they’re very intent on not leaving anything behind on the playa, what about the toxic waste generated from manufacturing half a KM of LED strips? What else would you do with a setup like that?

      I dunno…it just feels like Burning Man has become less counterculture and more “let’s make blinking electronic stuff out in the desert.”

      1. Many people laugh when someone suggests that Burning Man is a “green” event. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some burners know this, and accept it and get on with our burn. The amount of gasoline used to get to the event alone would make some heads spin. You may think it “frivolous”, but no more so than any other festival or event that people like to go to.

        That said, my blinky fur car cushions are mounted on my office wall most of the year when they aren’t making people smile at burning man.

    2. It does, now that you mention it.

      I’d be interested to hear more about the failures. What glue failed? (Tell me it wasn’t hot melt, heh.) Were any of the power supplies autopsied?

  1. “5V 40A power supplies were used for the tall panels, 5V 30A power supplies for the smaller ones.”

    So just 350W total power 16,000 LEDs? 0.022 watts per LED?

    60 mW is typical for an LED. That’s 960 watts. Roughly three times the original post’s claim.

  2. I’m not sure if that 25 KW of audio make for good neighbors. On can choose not to stare at nude unattractive fat people, however escaping loud sound or rank odors isn’t easy to do comfortably.

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