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Firefly Lights Up City Centre

Project Firefly Installed at CltyLab in Dalton Sqare Project Firefly Installed at CltyLab in Dalton Sqare

At first glance they look like a simple string of fairy lights to celebrate the festive season.

But look a little closer and you'll find that there's more than meets the eye to one of the displays currently lighting up Lancaster City Centre.

CityLab in Dalton Square has been chosen to showcase one of the latest innovations to come out of InfoLab21 - Project Firefly.

Technological Upgrade

So what makes this set of fairy lights different from all the others currently on show across the district? Put simply, they have been given a technological upgrade by two of the University's more adventurous academics, Joe Finney & Alan Dix, based in the Computing Department at InfoLab21.

Each light contains a miniature computer, making them individually controllable. As a result patterns and effects are much easier to create and can be far more intricate and dynamic than those currently available.

High Efficiency LED Technology


The installation, 7.5m by 5 m, consists of 3000 lights, each with an integrated miniature computer. It is likely to be the largest deployment of computers in one place that locals will have ever seen. The lights use latest high efficiency LED technology, so the whole display only takes 300w to power - about the same as 5 normal light bulbs.


The lights can be hung in any order, anywhere, in any configuration. A key feature of the lights is that they can also work out for themselves where they have been placed in relation to each other, and can be individually controlled. This way a seemingly random collection of lights can be turned into a structured 2D or even 3D display. Furthermore, the lights require fewer cables than current systems, all making deployment of these lights much easier.

Dr. Joe Finney said, "This project really highlights how modern Computer Science is being used to support a whole new wave of innovative products and applications. As the cost and size of computers shrink, we'll see more and more examples like this of computing making our world better and easier. Firefly is one example of the way we seek to explore this changing role of computer science technology and innovation in our many research projects and our degree programmes at Lancaster University Computing Department."

Commercial Promise

Commenting on the display, Cllr Abbott Bryning said, "This is an excellent and very visible example of how the City Council and Lancaster University work together. It is very fitting that CityLab, which provides office space for knowledge economy businesses, can act as a demonstrator for new technology developed at InfoLab21."

As well as being fun this technology has great commercial promise. Eventually the lights could revolutionise lighting displays and have great potential for advertisers. But for now they will be winking at late night shoppers as they scurry around Lancaster buying up last minute Christmas gifts.

Project Firefly originated as part of the e-Campus project - a major initiative at Lancaster University that is exploring new public display technologies and their applications. e-Campus is a joint initiative between the Computing Department, ISS and the Estates Department.

Wed 17 December 2008