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Sep 052013

Party at the Disorient Pyramid

This year the Disorient Camp at Burning Man built a 7m tall pyramid with over half a kilometer of LED strips. Several artists developed patterns for the panels, including Disorient founder Leo Villareal and Jacob Joaquin from Fresno Idea Works. Every night there was a party in front of the pyramid, with bicycles blocking the entire Esplanade.

The pyramid was visible from just about everywhere on the playa and served as a great beacon for finding the camp after a long night out. Read more for the technical details of how it was constructed and links to all the source code.

One of the longer patterns shows an evolution from the double helix of DNA, to the game of life to worms wiggly snakes before transitioning back to more abstract patterns.

Pyramid ToughBook

A Toughbook ran all of the pyramidTransmitter code, which rendered the frames to 24-bit bitmaps and sent them over UDP to the network. This machine spent all night in the dust and each morning was covered in several milimeters of fresh playa dust.

LED panel controller

Driving each face of the pyramid was a BeagleBone Black running LEDscape, which sliced the images into the individual panels. It then sent the individual pieces over USB to four teensy3 microcontrollers, each which had eight WS281x 30 LED/m strips. The tall panels had 5V 40A supplies, the smaller ones used 30A.

disorient led pyramid assembly party

The project was a bi-coastal one — the large panels were soldered and wired in California and much of the low level software was developed in New York. The boards were designed by Naim and available under an OSHW license. On site a crew of volunteers assembled the panels onto the pyramid structure built by the rest of the Disorient camp.

Operating in the harsh conditions of the Black Rock desert is difficult for electronics. We had lots of trouble with the powersupplies failing due to the heat and dust; next year perhaps we’ll use more, but lower amperage, sealed DC supplies. The adhesive holding many strips to the pegboard failed. Several of the solder joints broke due to stress during mounting. Screw terminals rattled loose from the 25KW of sound system in the Disorient dome. There was late night soldering while hanging from the rafters of the pyramid. Despite all these problems, the panels and the sixteen thousand LEDs put on quite a show the entire week.

 Posted by at 11:07 pm

  15 Responses to “Disorient Pyramid at Burning Man 2013”

Comments (8) Pingbacks (7)
  1. Impressive. I’ve been camping with batteries in the dirt, but this is way bigger.

  2. I programmed the DNA + Game of Life + Worms (Snakes) animation. Thank you so much for getting a video of it!

    • Thank you! I was part of the Disorient camp this year and your work is phenomenal! Seriously big hugs for it! I loved itttt!!

      • I’m glad you enjoyed it so much! I lost my mind with excitement the first time I saw it from across the playa. You Disorienters know how to camp!

  3. Thats some pretty awesome Esplanade eyecandy!

    A few more details would be awesome.

    You say one Beaglebone Black per ‘face’. How many faces are we looking at here. Your pyramid looks to be a tetrahedron, so three faces or is it six? I’m assuming six, each driving four teensies. One for each vertical arrangement of panels?

    You clearly ran into bandwidth/memory issues hence the laptop->beaglebones->teensies arrangement. Now that you are back and most of the dust has settled how would you have done thing differently?

    Why did you chose the teensy over other platforms?


  4. This is so cool and huge…

    How much did this cost? And was it built for the sheer coolness or are you planning on renting it out or something to get some money out of it?

  5. Excellent work! I’m curious what you guys did you reduce noise in the system? How long were the connection wires between LED strips? I have a project that requires 2′-5′ distances between strips and I have too much noise to consider it a reliable system.

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