Working for an LED manufacturer, I have the privilege of being surrounded by some of the brightest scientists and engineers in the business. These are people who are truly trying to make a difference in the world around them by utilizing the science of light in ways that can help shape the world around us, affect the health of people, plants and animals and create a vibrant, more sustainable world. As a company, we have been fortunate to work on many high profile projects over the years, but one that remains close to all our hearts at Lighting Science was when we were asked to help work on the LED redesign of New York City’s Time Square Ball in 2008 and 2009. Lighting Science Group, and a handful of industry leaders, worked on these complex projects to give the beloved New York icon a much-needed 21st century makeover by creating a bigger, brighter and more energy-efficient Times Square Ball.
The Switch to LED
The tradition of lowering the illuminated orb symbolically at the exact turn of the year in Times Square dates back to the early 1900’s. The first New Year’s Eve Ball was made of iron and wood, and was lit with a mere 100 25W light bulbs. The 2008 100th Anniversary Ball was light years ahead in technology compared to its predecessors. The new Ball design boasted more than 9,500 LEDs with up to 16 million possible color combinations, creating a kaleidoscope of hues. It was 6ft wide and weighed over 1,200 pounds. It contained 672 Waterford crystal panels and was 95% more energy efficient than its incandescent predecessor. To give you an idea of the energy efficiency, it ran on approximately the same energy as is used by a standard oven range! Lighting Science designed and developed the overall lighting system for the Ball, including the LED modules, power systems, and power and data distribution networks. In addition, we created custom optical reflectors which extracted the maximum light output, and an integrated thermal management system.
A New Design Gets Even Better
A true attestation to Lighting Science’s engineering and custom design abilities was presented when we were approached again to help create the new 2009 Ball. Partnering with our esteemed partners as before, we were tasked to create yet another rejuvenated version of the Ball – a bigger, brighter one which would remain in place as a year-round attraction on top of One Times Square, the building dubbed “the Crossroads of the World”. This specific fact created extra challenges for our team, as the Ball had to be able to weather New York’s snowy winters and extremely hot, humid summers. Hours of electrical, mechanical and environmental tests were performed to ensure optimal long-term performance, aided by a new, state-of-the-art thermal engineering system. “Extensive thermal and design calculations were involved in the transition to LED technology,” said Fred Maxik, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Lighting Science. “Although LEDs run much cooler than legacy incandescent lamps, since the redesigned Times Square Ball was going to remain up and displayed 365 days a year, it required 9,000 CFM of cooling fans to exhaust the internal heat during the hottest days of the summer.”
The redesigned Ball was covered in 2,688 glimmering Waterford crystal panels arranged in triangles to create a geodesic globe. It was twice the diameter of the previous Ball – at 12 feet wide and weighed 11,875 pounds. That’s equivalent to the weight of four compact cars, while its diameter was comparable to the length of an average SUV! The LEDs illuminating the crystals could be programmed to create spectacular theatrical effects and patterns that allow each facet of crystal to be viewed from the streets of Times Square, over 400 feet below. Each LED module was designed with four individually addressable red, green, blue, and white (RGBW) pixels, which equates to a total of 10,752 RGBW individually addressable pixels. By doing so, videos could then be programmed and displayed over the Ball’s entire surface as revelers count down the New Year from below.
A true feat of lighting engineering, the Times Square Ball still shines brightly over New York City. Every New Year’s Eve, it serves as a reminder of hope and the promise of another new year for millions around the globe who watch and celebrate the New Year’s festivities. At Lighting Science, we can’t help but look back and be reminded how our efforts played a part in helping to create some of the amazing history of the Times Square Ball and we are proud to have been a part of these unique projects.
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