Waterfront Vancouver will soon be bringing tens of thousands of people to the bank of the Columbia River. Imagine a light sculpture on Hayden Island that engages and entertains people on both sides of the river. That’s what this proposal is about.

Hayden Island’s northern 20 foot high river bank is filled with huge boulders and is not accessible by the public. But imagine a large scale interactive light sculpture near the water line. People on both sides of the river could interact with it. LED lights would be draped over a series of 12 foot poles.

Projection Mapping typically projects images over iconic buildings but organic shapes and sprinkler system also make great screens.

The goal is to encourage engagement and cooperation on both sides of the river. It could be seen (and controlled) from both Washington and Oregon while bringing a smile to people. Even provide useful information.


This light sculpture might include the following features:

1. Interactive. Using inexpensive light controllers, such as the $30 TP Link, people on either side of the river could control the lights using their own voice. Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home might be one interface to control the lights. DMX light controllers control stage lighting. Bluetooth mesh is all about lighting and Bluetooth 5 could have enough range to be controlled from across the river.

2. Organic. These sculptures would only be visible at night. They would form images of common themes such as clouds, sun, the river, fish or birds.

The theme on the waterfront could be repeated in a land-based sculpture. It could provide proximity lighting in the pedestrian tunnel or shelter in the Jantzen Beach Mall.

3. Useful. The sculpture can be programmed to indicate weather (clouds or sun) as well as current conditions for fishing or traffic.

Hayden Island Benefits:
The light sculpture would barely be seen by Hayden Island residents, although they could view it when near the river bank edge. It could promote Hayden Island hotels and businesses but it’s primary benefit may be to encourage mutual self interest and cooperation between Washington and Oregon through engagement.

Wireless Option:
Hayden Island might also provide wireless communications on the riverfront. A Bluetooth Beacon notification could direct phones to a webpage running a webapp. That enables user interactivity.

  • Bluetooth 5.0
    Bluetooth Beacons simply “broadcast” a url to nearby phones, redirecting users to a dedicated webpage. Bluetooth 5.0 can easily extend range to phones on the Vancouver Waterfront. Beacons act like “lighthouses”. Ilumi’s MeshTek Lighting controller enables existing or newly designed fixtures to be locally controlled and scheduled using Bluetooth. The Bluetooth Beacon is grabbed by Vancouver viewers who are re-directed to the web app controlling the lights.

    Bluetooth 5.0 enables a larger data packet and longer range. As long as Bluetooth is on, Vancouverites and Portlanders could grab the url from nearly a mile away. The web controls the lights. No special app required for your phone. Last year, Google launched Instant Apps, a way for developers to give users a native app experience that didn’t involve having to install anything.

    With Bluetooth Mesh, a radio packet can instruct lights in a defined group to be switched on. In a flooding mesh, the packet will spread quickly through the mesh network, and a large number of lights can be switched on or off in the same instant. A Bluetooth 5 Software Development Kit enables creation of networked devices and the smartphone apps needed to control lights and sensors.

    Using Bluetooth 5.0, a Beacon on the Oregon shore should reach a mile or more… especially if a small 12db panel antenna boosts the effective power of the Beacon. No internet connection necessary. No WiFi. The phone’s data connection makes the link to the web app page.

    Bluetooth 5 incorporates a Flooding Mesh, which is a networking technique where every incoming packet to one (lighting) node is repeated to all connected nodes. The main BLE scanning and advertising Beacon on the Oregon side means that every received packet is broadcast again, until the packet reaches the destination node. It’s all about advertising and location.

    Portland-based Rigado has a Bluetooth 5 IoT Gateway. Get your message out – using your phone’s data plan. It redirects to your Facebook page that streams Coast Guard radio, Marine Traffic, weather, or Twitter/Facebook chat. Fast. Easy. No apps.

    It’s the Columbia Broadcast System.

    Hayden Island’s Feral Cat Tracking Project is one application, but location tracking also works for boats. Put a $99 Bluetooth gateway every mile or so up and down the Columbia River. With directional antennas, BT-5 Long Range should reach a mile up and down the river. Gateways relay the beacon location to the cloud.

    Location. Location. Location. We own the waterfront.

    The waterproof LEDs could be draped over a series of 12 ft poles, near the waterline. It could extend some 50-100 feet, near the river’s edge. Alternately, a series of 4x4s could be laid along the 45 degree slant of the river bank. Each 4×4 would have a number of translucent “quills” (for the LEDs). Projection mapping would require a large water screen from a fireboat or small barge.

    Finding a property or home owner willing to host the sculpture may be the least of the challenges. Approval by organizations like the Dept of State Lands, Corps of Engineers, Police and Fire, and others would be necessary. Funding is another issue.

    Other examples:

    The Vivid Sydney Festival turns The Bridge into an interactive light sculpture. Colour The Bridge, created by production company 32 Hundred Lighting in partnership with Intel, covers the bridge with 2,000 LEDs and over half a mile of fiber optics. The light display is controlled by the public who can choose from a palette of colors using a simple interface.

    The Willamette Light Brigade, the experts in projects like this, also sponsors the Portland Winter Light Festival. The Oregon Cultural Trust champions and invests in the statewide cultural exchange and creative expression.

    An interactive light sculpture along the river bank could appealing and mutually beneficial with the right concept and approach.


    What do you think?

    – Sam Churchill