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The Burning Man Light Badges That Have Sex With Each Other

"Nice lights. Care to have sex?"​

For Burning Man this year, a well-known hardware hacker, Andrew "bunnie" Huang, invented networked light badges that can have virtual sex with each other. Each badge was programmed with a "virtual genome" that expressed traits such as color range, blinking rate, and saturation of the light pattern.

When two light badges "mated," the digital "sperm" and "egg" united to form a new LED pattern. The new pattern then replaced the current pattern on the "egg donor's" badge.


"By adding a peer-to-peer radio in each badge, I was able to implement a protocol for the breeding of lighting patterns via sex," bunnie wrote on his blog.

The badges were hermaphroditic. Each badge had the requisite ports to play either the male or female role, depending on whether the badge in question offered or accepted the booty call.

To avoid the possibility of non-consensual light badge virtual intercourse—rape, in other words—Bunnie programmed the light badges so that only a badge playing the female role could initiate.

"It's impossible for a paternal badge to force a sperm into a maternal badge: male roles are not allowed to have sex without first being asked by a female role," bunnie wrote. "Instead, the person playing the female role must first initiate sex with a target mate."

Bunnie produced 100 badges for Burning Man this year, he explained in an encrypted email. They were also designed to be a social ice breaker.

"The sex feature was a lot of fun and lead to countless declarations that sounded completely hilarious or inappropriate out of context."

The light badges were ostentatiously bright. Walking around at night in the desert at Burning Man is dangerous, bunnie wrote on his blog. "Anything more subtle than a Las Vegas strip billboard tends to go unnoticed by fast-moving bikers thanks to the LED arms race that has become Burning Man at night."

Bunnie also tried to give people unique light patterns to make it easier for members of his theme camp, "The Institute," to identify each other after dark. "I wanted to come up with a way for people to craft an identity that was inherently social and interactive," he wrote on his blog. "In an act of shameless biomimicry, I copied nature's most popular protocol for creating individuals—sex."

Bunnie's Burning Man light badges owe their origin to the Orchard project, an open-source networked objects platform. It was, he explained by email, "developed in part to teach supply chain and manufacturing to a group of MIT Media Lab graduate students."

A few tweaks to the basic Orchard design, a successful CrowdSupply campaign that raised $5,865, and—voilà! Burning Man light badge sex.

When asked if anyone got laid IRL because of the badges, bunnie would only say, "No comment :) I've heard only rumors, anyways—it's not the sort of thing I interrogate people about."