Parisian company uses Arduino to let anyone control its Christmas tree

The decade in internet scamming
From Yahoo boys to Caroline Calloway, scammers were a big part of the 2010s.

See all Editor's Picks

The holidays are one of the best times to experiment with tech, from drones flying into fireworks to Christmas lights set to music. One team of creative hackers decided to turn their Paris office into a holiday celebration, inviting anyone with an Internet connection to make their Christmas tree sparkle.

Reputation Squad is a digital agency and creative lab that experiments with emerging technologies like Google Glass and virtual reality. While playing with an Arduino-based light-notification system for webpage errors, the team realized they could use the same Arduino technology to create an interactive light-up Christmas tree.

Reputation Squad

Arduino and Raspberry Pi, two small, open-source electronics platforms, are often used to set up easy-to-program light fixtures. In fact, many of those impressive Christmas light displays are controlled by Arduino. Starter kits cost about $100, and learning to program the hardware to create art is an awesome way to get people interested in programming. (Programmable lights are just one fun Arduino-powered hack.)

Reputation Squad set up a website that lets anyone control their Christmas tree by hovering over the lights on the screen. A webcam controlled by a CubieBoard2—another programmable, open source hardware platform more powerful than a Raspberry Pi—lets visitors peek into the company’s offices.

The website features 10 controllable areas, each of which is linked to an LED light on the tree. Benjamin Merritt, project manager at Reputation Squad, explained in an email that each light is connected to an Arduino and controlled by the CubieBoard2 with Node.JS.

Reputation Squad

To prevent a backlog of interested people wanting to program the lights, each remotely controlled burst only lasts about 20 seconds. Because they’re being watched by webcam, Reputation Squad employees will sometimes leave messages for viewers. Merritt said one colleague held up a “Love you mum” sign while her mother was lighting up the tree.

The Christmas tree hack joins the ranks of other office hacks that let outsiders control their programming. Many of these hacks use hardware similar to Reputation Squad’s tree, including the #Basic LEGO hack that acts like a cuckoo clock whenever someone tweets the hashtag #basic.

If you’d like to create your own Ardunio hack—such as a phone-controlled holiday robot—you can find everything you need on Adafruit.

Photo by Reputation Squad

Selena Larson

Selena Larson

Selena Larson is a technology reporter based in San Francisco who writes about the intersection of technology and culture. Her work explores new technologies and the way they impact industries, human behavior, and security and privacy. Since leaving the Daily Dot, she's reported for CNN Money and done technical writing for cybersecurity firm Dragos.