Most people don't happen to have thousands of LED lights lying around a workshop.
And most people don't have two 3-D printers and other tools needed to create an interactive light display controlled by cellphones and containing more than 3,000 bulbs.
But for Boulder's Silicon Junkies, all these pieces add up to just another roll in the technological hay. They would have you believe that anyway.
The Silicon Junkies are group of four members of the Boulder hacker space Solid State Depot, and together, they've created an entry for Red Bull Creation competition, a self-described "innovation competition" that allows entrants to take a piece of Red Bull-designed hardware -- the "TurBULL Encabulator" -- and incorporate it into a fully functional project of, well, anything they can dream up involving LEDs. The Encabulator basically functions as a control board for an LED lighting system.
The contest is open to 200 groups of contestants, and this year, the Junkies managed to snag one of the Encabulators and put together a project that is equal parts fun, jaw-dropping and creative: the affectionately named "Interactive Encabulatrix."
Although the project is fully collaborative, it was Dan Julio, an entrepreneur who owns an LED lighting company, who was the team member responsible for generating interest in entering the competition. "I do LEDs, and when I saw it was an LED contest...."
"Dan is the man with the LED plan," interjects a laughing Bryant Hadley, fellow Silicon Junkies member and fabrication technician.
It's this kind of easy interaction that best characterizes the Junkies: four guys with different fortés who like to mess around with tools and computers. Take Ben Burdette: A computer programmer during the day, he had been messing around with computer code scripts for lights that could be controlled by a regular smart phone. "I thought, 'I've been working on these little controls anyway, it will just be minimal effort....'
"Famous last words," he adds, sparking more laughter from the other Junkies.
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Continue for more about the Silicon Junkies and the "Interactive Encabulatrix," including photos. It turned out that those "little controls" took about two weeks to properly assemble. But for Burdette, the project was all in the spirit of creation and collaboration.
Chris Chronopoulos, the fourth official team member, is a physics graduate student at CU-Boulder, as well as the member responsible for the design and creation of the "hedron," a PVC-pipe polyhedron that hangs from the ceiling and is lined with LEDs. Burdette calls Chronopoulos's contributions "doing geometries."
"This is what I was doing last week, was just kind of devising a system for making all different kinds of polyhedral, those three dimensional shapes," Chronopoulos says. "And so I actually came up with a vertex system that is flexible enough that you don't actually have to compute to find the angle the struts meet at, you just find the lengths and it rotates in a way which preserves that length."
The final result of the team's effort is the Interactive Encabulatrix -- a fully interactive light show, in laymen's terms. The Encabulatrix is comprised of three different main pieces: the windmill-shaped board containing the TurBULL Encabulator, the dangling hedron and two LED-laced columns in the shape of a wheel and axle and wrapped in white paper.
The team estimates that, all told, the entire project took about two weeks to complete. Then, late last month, the team celebrated at a party that drew more than one-hundred people and featured a live band, a huge sound system and plenty of vodka-Red Bulls.
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The next step is for the team to submit a video of their project by May 5. If the Junkies are one of the six teams selected as finalists, they'll be traveling to Brooklyn in mid-June to participate in the 72-hour main Creation event for a chance to win $10,000.
The team's project clearly has potential beyond the competition. Imagine EDM shows where the crowd completely controls the lights via cell phones, or art exhibits where the viewers are actually part of the show. But for the team, the contest was really just an excuse to be creative. As Julio puts it, "Even if we don't win, I think for our organization, this was a fantastic team exercise."
Burdette concurs. "It was mainly just to do it, and this is just the kind of environment where people do get together here and figure out that they can make something. It's a great place for people to hook up if they're looking to put something together."