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Hundreds of LED-equipped umbrellas will descend on MIT this Sunday night

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UP LED Umbrellas
UP LED Umbrellas

Residents in the Boston area will have the chance to see a pretty unique art installation this weekend. On Sunday evening, hundreds of LED-enabled umbrellas will light up Cambridge thanks to a collaboration between MIT and a Connecticut-based dance group known as Pilobolus. The event is called UP: The Umbrella Project and was first performed up in Camden, Maine last October. Over 300 members of the MIT student body, faculty, and staff will participate; each gets an umbrella lined with red, green, and blue LED lights plus a controller to let them change the lighting as they see fit, and all of the movements will be broadcast onto a large inflatable screen so that the performers can see their movements.

The event organizers describe it as a "large scale experiment for how social dynamics work, for how individuals can make decisions that can benefit that then effect the larger result" — while each person can control their own umbrella, there will be "leaders" to help guide the group. Aside from the visuals, there's a research angle that appealed to MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab (CSAIL), which is hosting the event. "Our work deals with developing algorithms that allow robots to operate independently within a large decentralized network so that the robots can coordinate and work together to accomplish a common task," said Dr. Kyle Gilpin, a postdoctoral associate at CSAIL. Unfortunately, participation is limited to those in the MIT community, but it should be a fun time for spectators as well. To get an idea of what's in store, check out the video below of the October performance.