Firefly Automata

Firefly Automata


Electronic firefly automata self-organize into synchronized flashing swarm

Certain species of fireflies will synchronize their flashing in the wild. They do this by watching their neighbors and changing their own pattern to converge on what they see. This is an incredible effect to see in nature especially since there is no leader, they self-organize. They flock in time like birds and fish do in space.

This project aims to recreate this emergent behavior with a group of electronic fireflies. Each one is small enough to be pinned to a shirt like a brooch or a badge. It pulses its pattern on a green LED, broadcasts its timing on an IR LED, listens for others with an IR sensor and converges toward them. A small swarm will synchronize up in a minute or two as they come within visual range of each other, about 10m.

Now imagine dozens of these, worn by visitors as they move around a space, constantly converging on each other, being stirred up by new visitors as they approach each other. They work outdoors or indoors, in light or dark, but are obviously more dramatic in the dark.

The brains of the project is an Arduino micro controller, and the code will be open-source as well as the hardware. I will make the circuit board and cad files for the case available as well.

A swarm of synchronizing fireflies is cool enough on its own, but adding an RGB LED has made subsequent versions of this project into a more general purpose art platform. Color cycles through the rainbow can be synchronized rather than just flashes. They can be programmed to follow each other rather than match each other. They can broadcast their color along with their timing so that colors seem to pass around between them or converge on each other. All behaving independently as cellular automata, creating an emergent behavior as a group.