MIT Will Use 300 Programmable Umbrellas to Light Up the Cambridge Skyline

The umbrellas have interchanging LED lights and will be used for an interactive performance.

Photo via Pilobolus

Photo via Pilobolus

More than 300 umbrellas retrofitted with multi-colored LED lights will be used to create an interactive light show on MIT’s campus as part of a large-scale performance piece.

On Sunday, May 19, hundreds of MIT students, faculty, and staff will “transform the Cambridge skyline,” using programmable umbrellas for “UP: The Umbrella Project,” a collaborative between the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Pilobolus dance company. Sunday’s performance will be the second umbrella show the two groups put together, following a successful debut in Maine earlier this year.

Every umbrella used for the performance has the ability to change colors using hand controllers designed by researchers from MIT’s Distributed Robotics Lab. A roving camera will be situated above the participants, who will meet at the Jack Barry Field, located behind the Johnson Athletics Center on Vassar Street, and will record the changing colors as they switch from red to blue to green, in no particular order.

Images from the video camera are projected onto a large inflatable screen so umbrella holders can see what the group is producing as a whole. According to event details, “As ‘UP’ participants traverse the field and manipulate the hue of their umbrellas, they will create a colorful and ever-changing display of live art.”

Dr. Kyle Gilpin, a postdoctoral associate at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, says the “human-robot dance” will monitor both algorithms of the robotics, matched with the behavior of the attendees. “We give people direction, but it’s not at all a marching band with programmed moves or a choreographed dance. It’s much more free-form and the individuals have the autonomy to choose what they want to be doing at any given time,” he says. “There is a set of things that humans do well, and what algorithms do well, and we are trying to find out where those things overlap.”

Last October, Gilpin says they worked with Pilobolus to put on a similar show in Maine, which was “a hit.”

“It’s a fun show, it doesn’t take any training, anyone can just show up and watch,” he says. The event is reserved for members of the MIT community as far as participation goes, but the general public is welcome to attend.

UP: The Umbrella Project from Pilobolus on Vimeo.