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#WickedCoolTree debuts at City Hall

December 10, 2014

New Urban Mechanics

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New Urban Mechanics

When a user tweets a color or a series of colors using the hashtag #WickedCoolTree, all 720 lights of the tree change to reflect the choice.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), and the City’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) have launched #WickedCoolTree in the public space at the third floor entrance of City Hall. The holiday tree is outfitted with 720 programmable LED lights.  When a user tweets a color or a series of colors using the hashtag #WickedCoolTree, all 720 lights will change reflecting the color choice.

“Visitors to City Hall will be delighted by the #WickedCoolTree, and it will also be a great way for virtual visitors to engage,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “This is a unique and innovative way to ramp up the holiday spirit in Boston, and I want to thank the Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Department of Innovation and Technology for their great work on this.”

The setup was built in-house by MONUM, using open-source software and hardware. The lights are controlled by three WiFi-enabled Arduinos, tiny computers that connect directly to the lights. The Arduinos communicate with a separate server that uses Twitter's streaming API to find the latest tweets tagged with #WickedCoolTree. In conjunction with the tree, DoIT’s Webteam has created a website that will stream the #WickedCoolTree tweets in real time at boston.gov/wickedcooltree.

This project is one of several new, temporary installations in the lobby of Boston City Hall. It joins - among others - a scale model of Downtown Boston as well as the Stairs of Fabulousness, which is an installation by a local artist. These projects are aimed at making Boston City Hall a more inviting space for the public.

This particular project is an experiment in using interactive design and the Internet of Things to improve public space. While the lights are initially decking a tree, they will be reused for other future projects. The City expects to learn from this experiment to see how similar approaches should be employed in the future.  

Additionally, the City worked with Greater Boston’s local Maker community to complete the look of the tree. In particular, the staff at NuVu Studio in Cambridge helped design and laser cut ornaments. NuVu Studio is a local innovation and education center for middle and high school students.