Prana: an LED exhibit that breathes with you

Mona Lalwani, Engadget, August 14, 2015

As you step into the shimmering globe of 13,000 LEDs, a sensor detects your presence. It reacts to the rise and fall of your lungs and illuminates the sphere of suspended lights called PRANA. The signal from the chip works its way to a computer that's loaded with custom javascript. The program triggers a variety of light effects – from pitch dark to sparkling lights – that fall in sync with your breathing to wrap you in a hypnotic glow. "Breathing is something that powers the body but you can't see it or detect it in very many ways," says Ben Hughes, managing creative director of B-Reel New York, the creative agency that created the experience. "PRANA is an attempt to visualize the unseen energy of our bodies and augment it in a really interesting way."


As an agency that works with tech companies like GoogleFacebook and Spotify, B-reel is no stranger to the world of technology. Mike Potter, the art director, spent almost a year in R&D to find the technology that could power the team's vision. The search ended with a XeThru chip, a Norwegian sensor with a radar that's sensitive enough to measure a baby's vital signs and powerful enough to pick up a presence even through walls. It's a fully digital system that's been used for security measures and disaster recovery. "[It can] find people trapped in collapsed buildings," says Hughes. "We're using it for very sensitive motion detection. The way we're reading the visitor's breath is through the small motions of their chest as they stand in the middle of the exhibit."


The installation, which was parked at the Fridman Gallery in SoHo in New York, is expected to travel. But for now, the studio has opened it up digitally to the public via a code editor that allows anyone to play around with the animation online. "The hope is that over time we'll have a constantly growing library of animations that have been submitted by the public that we can play out on the structure," says Hughes. "It's a way of allowing other people to touch it and interact with it."