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Ray the 'talking' light sculpture tells you how it feels

This solar-powered light sculpture responds to its surroundings and tweets out updates on mood and energy levels.

Pollinate Energy

Ray is a giant sculpture that sits on Sydney's foreshore as part of the annual Vivid Festival of music, light and ideas.

At 23-feet or 7 metres tall, Ray is made up of 9000 lights, 500 metres of silicon tubes and 1.5 tonnes of steel.

Visitors pull on light ropes hanging from charging pods, ringing them like a bell to send streams of light to the sculpture itself. Three people working simultaneously at each station can light up the entire sculpture, with a six-channel soundscape providing audio effects to complement the visual show.

Powered by the 1.2-kilowatt 'Sunflower' solar array developed by Southern Cross University, Ray sends out updates on data relating to its charging state, emotion and air quality.

Alexie Seller and Katerina Kimmorley from Pollinate Energy in front of the 'Sunflower' solar array. Pollinate Energy

Pollinate Energy, a company that creates energy solutions for poor communities in India, wanted to create a project that would represent its mission for sustainability. Experience design firm Wildwon was responsible for creating Ray's personality, collaborating with interaction designers to bring the sculpture to life.

"Because we wanted to incorporate live data feeds into the interaction with audiences, we thought it would be really interesting if we could tell the story of the data through a voice rather than just saying 'this many kilowatt hours' or 'this many visitors'," said Sally Hill, co-founder and impact strategist at Wildwon.

Ray the personality has a website that takes live data feeds from its surroundings and automatically posts updates on what's happening when certain thresholds are reached, such as a low power warning. It also responds more spontaneously to visitors interacting with the sculpture through the hashtag #HiRay on Twitter.

Sculpture designers amigo and amigo and interaction designers from S1T2 engineered the light sequence to respond in different ways depending on the intensity of the rope pulls. "It responds differently to a kid pulling it than to an adult pulling it," said Hill.

"They make interfaces and real-life sculptures as fun as possible to play with."

According to data compiled by IBM's 'Heart of the City' project about Vivid Festival, Ray is the most popular sculpture on show with over 200,000 visitors.

Vivid runs until June 9 in Sydney, including a range of other light shows on the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.