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David Rueter, The Kuramoto Model (1000 Fireflies)

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The Kuramoto Model (1000 Fireflies)

The Kuramoto Model (1000 Fireflies) will distribute 1000 interactive blinking LED devices to bicyclists who attend Northern Spark 2012. The devices are outfitted with microcontrollers and radio units that allow them to mutually and observably synchronize with others, as do certain species of firefly. In isolation these devices look similar to conventional LED cycling safety lights, but in groups they exhibit an immediately noticeable phenomenon. To maximize the visual impact for all festival attendees, organizers will encourage participating cyclists to gather together in a large group to tour various festival sites.

This project owes much to the research of Yoshiki Kuramoto, who in 1975 first articulated a mathematical model that describes why, how, and when large systems of similar oscillators (things that cycle automatically and repeatedly) can mutually synchronize, without any single coordinating force or leader. With Kuramoto’s legacy (as well as the earlier work of Norbert Wiener and Art Winfree) as a starting point, 1000 Fireflies aims to activate and transform the social networks and urban dynamics associated with cycling by fusing this existing system with one biased toward synchronization. Grafting this artificial system of synchronized blinking lights onto a real-world urban transportation system does two things: first, it calls attention to the individual act of cycling as a component of a larger dynamic system with its own unique patterns and qualities, and second, it momentarily transforms that system through a subtle but pointed intervention in urban social space.

The Kuramoto Model (1000 Fireflies) is documented and published on a project blog. The software and hardware implementation details are published under an open-source license, allowing others to reproduce the designs or use them for new projects. Through an open process and significant outreach, organizers receive input and participation from members of the Minneapolis/St. Paul cycling community.

How can I get one?

A limited supply of Kuramoto lights will be available free of charge at the beginning of the festival at the two Info Tents near the Stone Arch Bridge and the Info Tables at these partner sites: American Swedish Institute, Midtown Greenway Coalition, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the Weisman Art Museum.

Avoid waiting in line and guarantee yourself a light by making a pledge of $10 to the project’s Kickstarter campaign by June 1. Kickstarter supporters are invited to pick up their “fireflies” prior to the festival at this event:

Saturday, June 2
Pre-Spark Bridge Lighting
7-10 pm
Mill Ruins Park, 103 Portland Ave, Minneapolis
Pick up your reserved light and watch us “flip the switch” at dusk on this year’s signature artwork, THINK AND WONDER, WONDER AND THINK on the Stone Arch Bridge.

Kickstarter supporters who don’t pick up their lights prior to June 9 must retrieve them at the Information Tent at Fifth Avenue SE on the night of the festival.

Ride with all of the Kuramoto Lights

On June 9 meet in Father Hennepin Park at 11:45 pm for an midnight ride across the Stone Arch Bridge with all the Kuramoto lights.

The Ride Before the Ride

Want to join the blinking mass in a ride leading up to the Stone Arch ride? Nice Ride staff will be leading a group ride departing from The Walker at 10:30 pm. The group will then progress to Loring Park, stop at Hennepin and 4th Street, and then continue on to Father Hennepin Park to arrive at the Stone Arch Bridge by 11:30. If you can’t make it to the 10:30 departure, feel free to meet the group at any of the stops along the way! They will be stationed at Loring Park until 10:45, and Hennepin and 4th until 11:15.

Don’t have a Kuramoto light yet? Have no fear! The Nice Ride ride leader will have about 25 lights to give out along the way. Join in early if you want to grab one!

David Rueter

A former software engineer, David Rueter holds a BA in politics from Oberlin College and is an MFA candidate in art and technology studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.