My 1st Arduino project

2 May 2009


I decided my participation in Ottawa Chinatown’s first Chinatown Remixed exhibition made for a great opportunity to try my hand at this whole Arduino thing. Given the front window of a local business in which to showcase a project, I envisioned an illuminated sign interacting with the pedestrian traffic out on the sidewalk.

With a helping hand from Deb, we built a sign from electroluminescent wire and used a first Arudino to control the various words and syllables of the exhibition title, “Chinatown Remixed.”


A second Arduino was paired with an ultrasonic sensor to create a proximity sensor placed outside the restaurant to detect pedestrians and send this information wirelessly to the sign inside (with an FM transmitter + receiver and the VirtualWire library).


The sidewalk activity detected by the sensor was used to trigger sequence changes to the words/syllables lit up on the sign. The governing concept of the project was to build an animated sign that was literally remixed by the community.

Here’s the official write-up that accompanied the piece on site:


Interactive light installation

60” x 30”

Plexiglass, electroluminescent wire, custom electronics

This interactive lighting installation is activated by a custom-built, wireless motion sensor, which responds to nearby pedestrian and auto traffic. This motion triggers a random rearrangement of the sign’s syllables.

Aesthetically referencing traditional neon signage – found in abundance in Shanghai and “Chinatowns” around the world – the reflection of neighborhood activity is combined with an element of chance to create a play on words and meaning. The installation remixes the role of signage between informative and ambiguous.

For info on other works or to inquire about light commissions of all kinds, please visit

Andrew + Deborah O’Malley

May, 2009

With the gracious support of the Ontario Arts Council.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pics of the build process, and the installed piece proved quite difficult to document, thanks to competing lighting levels and a lot of glare. Here’s a short video of the sign in action, though:


Not bad for a first Arduino project, sure beats a couple flashing LEDs ;)

In all fairness, my previous experience with PIC microcontrollers and electronics obviously came into play with this project; combining that with the streamlined Arduino programming environment and vast array of libraries, tutorials, and examples, it feels like my embedded computing experience went from fighting traffic in a clunker to whizzing down the highway in a sports car.

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