Human Skybeam

An art project for Burning Man 2004


A shimmering column of light on the horizon: it flares and ebbs, shifts hue, reaches for the heavens. A beacon, a signal, a mystery. The curious wanderer follows to its base, searching for the beam's source, and thus its explanation; they find a spotlight atop a small tower, with three stationary bicycles at its base. The observer climbs aboard and begins pedalling; the electricity they generate keeps the light burning, thus helping to draw in the next round of curious onlookers.

Each bike drives one of the primary colors, so the beam's hue changes according to the number of participants and the amount of energy each one produces. A solo wanderer can pick their favorite color. Groups can cooperate, trying to produce some particular color, or to balance their energy to produce pure white light; or they can simply compete to see who can make their light brightest.

reference links

Bicycle-driven power generation

Lighting systems

An interesting project from 2002, involving a very bright spotlight.

Prebuilt voltage regulators, designed for caving headlamps; they sell a 12 volt option, and the site has schematics.

The big light on top of the Space Needle is also called a "skybeam", though the only references I can find are from sites complaining about it as a source of light pollution.

Another possible source for a commercial voltage regulator; this is a little discussion of some Volkswagen parts.

"Tribute in Light" for the World Trade Center

The Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas has a very bright spotlight at the tip of its pyramid that helped inspire this project.


July 31, 2004

Spent the afternoon working on the skybeam. I've finished the tower assembly: now it has four anchor stake mounts on the lower section and three cable mounts on the upper. I also installed five hanger bolts on the upper end as a mounting system for the lighting platform and ground the protruding ends of the main bolts. It's mechanically finished; I'd still like to sand it down and paint it, but that can wait.

I also started the lighting platform. I bought three stainless steel mixing bowls to use as reflectors; I was planning to buy the lamps to mount in them as well, but it seems that the auto-parts store I used to visit has closed since I moved out of Belltown. Oh well; I had plenty to do for one afternoon anyway. I cut out the platform itself, drilled mounting holes, and bolted on the reflectors. And yes, they will focus light: I was working out in the sun and nearly burnt my hand when I left it inside the bowl too long.

July 16, 2004

Time to organize the web site and add a more comprehensive explanation of the design. The deadline for random playa art installations is July 31st, which is approaching pretty quickly. The "Project Overview" diagram is new.

July 10, 2004

I bought the first round of parts today. I decided to start with the central tower, since its design is simple, and the sooner I get it built the sooner Amanda and Elizabeth can start thinking of ways to decorate it. I bought a pair of (very heavy!) treated cedar 4x4s for the center pole and about ten pounds of steel to hold it all together.

A set of six-foot ratchet tie-down straps made their way into the cart as an impulse buy in the checkout line; this should simplify the setup process. No more fussing around with knots; we can cut measured lengths of rope and tie them to the upper half of the tower ahead of time, then use the ratchets to add tension after the whole thing goes vertical.