FLY BY NIGHT
Illuminating the night skies.
As part of a public artwork installation, artist Duke Riley created Fly By Night, an ode to the once popular culture of pigeon keeping, by decorating the twilight skies with beautifully luminous flight. Captivated by Riley’s vision and the challenge, we were was tasked with outfitting 2,000 carrier pigeons with beacons of light for three shows a week.
From the start, the aggressive timeline of 6 weeks to showtime and our beloved users, the pigeons, were top of mind. We would need to design, develop, and user test in 4 weeks to effectively verify and validate before moving onto a critical 2 weeks of manufacturing.
With the goal of humanely fastening LED lights to the legs of pigeons, we were immediately confronted with the challenge of balancing LED brightness, battery life, and overall weight. Carrier pigeons can comfortably carry 75 grams but we set our sights on far less to ensure they were uninhibited and comfortable. We looked to the past, gaining inspiration from the historic leg bands used to carry messages,
We designed a system to allow us to control the leg modules via a master transmitter. The transmitter was capable of delivering coordinated packets of information to the bands, as well as a modified receiver, giving us the ability to switch on the LEDs, change between modes, and conserve energy. This allowed the modules to last for a weekend of flights and be removed during the week for battery replacement and cleaning. The battery-powered LED circuits were then covered with conformal coating to create a lightweight, semi disposable band while overcoming the bulkiness a fully water-resistant casing would have created. All in all, one band weighed 7 grams.
To validate our design, we conducted user testing—by attaching and testing the bands to our end user pigeon group. After tests proved that the band functioned aesthetically and, more importantly, comfortably for the pigeons, we moved into scaled production.
Finding a manufacturer that could produce 3,500 modules proved to be a hurdle. Partnering with Blinkinlabs, the modules were developed in-house and made it into the final bands that dazzled hundreds of spectators at the premier.
Recently, the installation was immortalized in an exhibition by Riley, Now Those Days Are Gone, consisting of large-scale photographs from the illuminate flights, as well as 1,000 individually hand-painted and embroidered portraits of pigeons from the project names, lofts, and crews listed. CEO, Marcel Botha embodied below.
Brooklyn Navy Yard