Culture, Fitness, and LEDs in Edinburgh

Last night, thousands of walkers and hundreds of runners in Edinburgh kicked off the Edinburgh International Festival with a remarkable synthesis of public art and fitness – NVA’s Speed of Light 2012. (The NVA is a Glasgow-based arts organization).

After nightfall in the city, the walkers and runners began to ascend in well timed groups to the 251 meter summit of the city’s iconic mountain: King Arthur’s Seat. The best part of all – these thousands of volunteers were decked out in LEDs. The light display was a layered and ever-changing feat choreographed to a score created by Resonance Radio Orchestra, wowing the entire city with its otherworldly beauty.

Here’s a photo of King Arthur’s Seat during the day:

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And here’s one of it during the festivities:

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A bunch of research went in to creating this light up gear to meet the NVA’s head designer James Johnson’s following standards:

  • Expresses movement of running and walking
  • Uses minimal power for a maximum effect
  • Uses movement to generate electrical power
  • Rugged, simple, and weatherproof

For the runners, the design team wanted something dramatic, so they ended up going with concentrated point source LEDs, which looked great both close and at a distance. The LEDs allowed them to mix color and adjust intensity of the lights remotely. The runners themselves had to be in tip-top shape, able to run 10 miles at a 9-10 minute pace in all kinds of weather. Therefore, as to not hinder them in their physical feat, the design team fashioned a webbing suit out of the LEDs, complete with a radio and battery pack. Check them out:

Speed of Light Suit in Action
Courtesy of
Courtesy of

The only shortcoming of these suits was that they couldn’t be powered by the runner’s motion. After attempting to harvest energy via knee braces, they determined any impediment to the runner’s motion dramatically affects his or her performance.

For the walkers, Johnson and his team wanted to build something subtler, to provide adequate safety lighting, but not to distract from the viewing experience. They decided to go with staffs/walking sticks illuminated by a combination of electroluminescent tape, fiber optic fabric, and diffused and non-diffused LEDs. Each staff housed a micro-computer that would synch up the flashing patterns with the Orchestra’s score, with changes triggered by movement and altitude. And here they are:

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

The research team was able to use motion to generate power in this instance, since walking is a more leisurely, steadier movement. To harness the power of movement, two LEDs, two high power Neodymium magnets, and a copper coil go in the top of the staff, then as the walker strides along, striking the stick against the ground, one of the magnets oscillates through the coil, creating a small electrical current. One LED lights up when the magnet travels down, and the other when the magnet travels up, producing a twinkly effect.

The runners also received a smaller version of this staff in the form of a baton.

The Speed of Light 2012 performance will continue almost every night until the beginning of September. To learn more you can visit the Speed of Light 2012’s website, or watch this video:

Annie Josey

Annie was the E-Commerce Marketing Specialist at Pegasus Lighting from June 2012 to October 2013. She has a background in English literature, and loves using language to help illuminate the world. So covering lighting news and tips naturally fit her interests. In her personal time she enjoys painting, biking, and reading.