Walk This Way


Gunthar Hartwig

Anne Lambert

David H. Nguyen




When one moves in an environment, one has an effect on that space. The tiniest action when multiplied 10,000 fold begets a larger re-action. A commonly cited example of this, the “butterfly effect,” illustrates this point; the flapping wings of a butterfly in China causes a tornado in Oklahoma through a complex chain of events. Another example might be one person walking along a path and taking a cut-off between two switchbacks. This seemingly causes no effect, but 5,000 people taking that same cut-off do have an effect – a new track is formed or erosion occurs.


Walk This Way attempts to illustrate this effect by translating simple actions into a complex visual display, hopefully to a visually pleasing or enlightening affect. This project is an interactive light experience designed to react to movement within its immediate surroundings. The basic reactions of each display unit are simple and limited but the cumulative patterns displayed are complex and unpredictable. This reaction is communicated to neighboring units and a cumulative effect will create complex patterns.  A network hooked to detectors allows communication between units. An action, triggered by a passerby or viewer, causes the display of a set pattern on whatever the display unit is defined to be. This display could be anything from a computer monitor to a series of lights.


System Logic


Each display unit has it’s own dedicated sensor or input device. When triggered, these units will respond according to a series of established action sequences. These action sequences dictate the pattern to be displayed by the unit and the message to be communicated to its neighbors. This message will affect the display properties of that neighbor. The messages are cumulative and build up over a set gradient – in this case a numerical sequence from 0-9. This level setting can be displayed in a variety of forms: colors, a series of images, the intensity of a light, or even sound.

These level settings are set through the overlapping and additive properties of what we have termed “action sequences.”



The cumulative effect of these basic actions will hopefully be visible and decipherable to the user. Elements to be observed might include brightness, changes propagation, delay and speed of change, accumulation, neighbors, and bounce.


Technical Specifications


The Walk This Way network will utilize a Java based system to create its display. A central server connects with client applets installed on or in connection to the display units. The test and proof of concept installation uses computer monitors as the display units, allowing each unit to run its own client. Future versions of the installation might use other display units, such as light-strings. In this case, these lights would be controlled by a separate computer device which might take the form of a laptop or specially constructed circuit board.


This system could potentially be used within a variety of different network arrangements. This flexibility means that unique installations using this display unit client/server package could be deployed using a wide variety of network designs.



The software allows for the selection of a variety of different display modules. These modules dictate what the display unit action shows or does. These modules can be of a variety of forms: images, light intensity levels.


The network arrangement can also allow for the system to incorporate two distinct physical locations. The actions of a user in one area might have unseen effects on another. This opens up many possibilities and questions. Will a user be able to recognize that they are affecting another location? Does this matter? What will be the reactions of viewers when a large population in one area creates many display actions in a low population second area?


Proof of Concept Installation


To test the system and gain an understanding of the ways in which the display units interact, a basic network has been set up in the Information Design and Technology computer lab. A ring of computers have been networked using the Walk This Way client/server software. For the purposes of this demonstration, mouse movements have been substituted for detector triggering. Instead of a pedestrian inadvertently triggering a response from a display unit, the user is asked to initiate an action sequence by toggling the mouse in front of any of the display units.


This installation offers three different display modules that dictate the imagery of the screens: a solid color which brightens and darkens, a series of dotted lines that rise and fall, and an abstract geometric design that increases in complexity and color.


Action sequences for the proof of concept installation have been limited, in this to a single possible response. Further action sequences will be incorporated in later versions of the software.


This test will give valuable information about the software, how people interact with the installation, and the display results. These results will be used to refine and modify the system in preparation for the final proposal and realization.


There are many questions to be asked and understood, both perceptual and technical. Will the user/viewers be able to follow the relationship between there actions and what is displayed? Will they even realize that there is a relationship? What level of “play” will be introduced and experienced. How will the software react to the interactions? How will the network relationship handle large amounts of event triggers?




Logistics for GA Tech installation


The final realization of this concept will utilize common decorative tree lights to wrap the trees along the walkway adjacent to the Skiles building (Area1) and the garden just east of the building (Area 2) on the Georgia Tech campus.




Because we are using common campus space, permission must be received from the University in order to begin installation.  Campus security will need to be notified in order to address issues of public safety and equipment security.  Arrangements will also need to be made with the physical plant to obtain access to power. Coordination with student groups to promote explain and define a schedule for the installation.




We hope to use this documentation to apply for funding in order to realize this project. The Graphics, Visualization and Usability Lab offers Seed Grants for multi-departmental collaborative projects.  With a modest budget obtained through one of these grants, this joint effort between the College of Computing and LCC could be realized in the Fall or Winter of 2002. Following is a preliminary budget of expenses:








Strands of lights




To light up trees

Solid State Relay




To switch lights on/off





To convert motion sensor to input      

Motion Sensor




To detect motion  

Extension Cords




To supply power






This budget will be modified before the proposal is submitted.


Final Summary


Walk This Way is designed to be an installation system that tests human response to their own impact on the environment around them. The logic of the system has been conceived to generate a rich visual display from relatively simple rules. It’s open-ended design could allow for deployment in a wide variety of settings using a plethora of display options.

(orginally posted on the LLC wiki)