High tech, but low power Christmas lights

The UNITY Xmas lights in London are clusters of coloured spheres that respond to movement

Forget garish Disney characters and tacky tinsel. Appropriately enough for the home of the first Apple Store in the UK, this year's Christmas lights in London's Regent Street are high tech treats.

Nokia is sponsoring the show, but it's a subtler involvement than decorations shaped like mobile phones or scenes of winter in Finland (where tall and pointy red hats called tonttulakki are traditional).

Lights go on, lights go off

Instead this year's lights - called UNITY - are clusters of coloured spheres that illustrate Nokia's motto - quite literally 'connecting people' by using sensors that make the lights turn on and off and change colour.

Each cluster has a large central sphere and 24 smaller globes around it. The LEDs in the globes can glow at different intensities and in different colours and they use motion-detecting cameras to respond to what's going on in Regent Street below.

Shoppers rushing from store to store, unseasonal sunshine, gusts of wind... they'll all cause different patterns and displays. And, when Nokia's flagship store opens on December 14, if the lights aren't doing anything interesting you'll be able to control hem directly by touching sensors in the shop's window.

The 'feel good' factor

Turning on the lights was suitably interactive too. Instead of a b-list celebrity pulling a switch, Nokia asked volunteers to gather at either end of the street, walk along en masse and trigger motion detectors. Each of the 14 installations lit up as people passed underneath.

The UNITY lights will be in place until January 6, whereupon the polyethylene spheres will be taken down and recycled. And with everyone watching their energy use these days, Nokia says using LEDs means UNITY only uses a tenth of the electricity a traditional display would need. So whatever other colours the lights turn, they'll end up green.

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