Think of it as a computer-controlled Sun Jar on steroids, a mix of art and computer science. The Solar Collector is a a sculpture created by artists Matt Gorbet, Rob Gorbet, and Susan LK Gorbet as a commission for the Region of Waterloo, which happens to be the home of Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, and the University of Waterloo, one of the world's best computer engineering schools.
On the "art" side, "the sculpture is solar-powered and interactive, inviting the community to choreograph its nightly performance via the web. Each shaft has three sets of lights, along with three solar panels. Their angles reflect the angles of the sun through the year. The tallest shaft is perpendicular to the sun at winter solstice, when the sun is low in the sky. The flattest shaft faces the high sun at summer solstice."
On the Science side, "The sculpture itself consists of twelve steel shafts, each having several lamps and solar panels affixed to its faces. Inside each shaft is an electronics drawer containing a battery for storing solar energy, a commercial charge controller, and custom electronics that are the "brains" of the shaft.
How your patterns get to the sculpture
Visitors to the sculpture's website compose patterns via the Create applet, which sends pattern parameters to a back-end database. A tiny host computer (really! it's smaller than a box of Kleenex!) running in the EMS building at 100 Maple Grove Road retrieves the pattern list every evening from the database. To begin the show, patterns are communicated over wireless modems between the host computer in the EMS building and an antenna inside the nearest shaft. From there, they are distributed to each of the shafts over a communication cable. The host computer knows when to begin the show each night based on a calculation of sunset time for the date and locale.