Phones & Drones

Coordinating a synchronized light show on our smartphones gave us a unique way to wish everyone a Happy New Year, while better understanding the technology involved with connecting personal devices in a public space. It also gave us an excuse to fly our drone.

About Phones & Drones

About the project

We were intrigued with the possibility of using our personal devices to power a communal experience. Instead of having people look down at their smartphones, we asked them to point them skyward in a synchronized effort to wish others a happy 2015.

We started by modeling custom sequence designs in Keynote, allowing us to experiment with different patterns. After exporting to individual JPEG images, custom software took over to prep the sequence, enabling us to rapidly iterate different colors and timing.

A web server built with NodeJS and Socket.IO managed all connected devices. Once the color sequence was initiated, the server read the color values and transported them to the connected devices via WebSockets. WebSockets then communicated between the browser and server, changing the CSS background color on our phones using Javascript. Everything worked seamlessly while testing.

While in a cold park, we learned that connecting multiple devices on multiple operating systems and multiple networks can create chaos. So we experimented further (in warmer surroundings), where we were able to control the chaos, producing a variation of our intended sequence.


We’ve long been fascinated with using people’s personal devices to participate in a public display. The thought of engaging tens of thousands of people at a concert or sports arena using this kind of technology excites us. This project is a stepping stone to making that larger experience a reality, while demonstrating what’s possible when you blend art and technology.

Check out some of our previous work using WebSockets - Snow Shake, MVSE and Pic Tap Toe.

We created a light show that used 36 phones as a canvas. Each phone represented a pixel, and it was all filmed overhead with a drone.
Phones & Drones large image

Custom software converted the sequences we created in Keynote to the pattern and order of the phones blinking.

Flags marked the positions for participants during the light show.
Participants entered a unique coordinate into a mobile site to inform their device when to respond (blink) during the light show.