The Thor Heyerdahl Globe

The Thor Heyerdahl Globe takes its inspiration from the work of Thor Heyerdahl and his lifelong concern with the environment, and the interconnections, flows and movements of people across the world.

The project is creating a 3 metre diameter spherical LED “globe” screen, that will act as a platform for data visualisations of live geographic information connected to climate change and migration.

The hardware components for the project have been completed and we are currently trying to find partner funding to complete the electronic manufacturing.

Idea and Project Lead: Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway
Programming Support: Tom Riley

Funded by: Vestfold Kommune, Arts Council of Norway

Supported by: University of Newcastle, Thor Heyerdahl Further Education College, Norwegian Meteorological Office, OSRAM, Larvik Næringsforening, Quality Hotel Grand Farris, DFDS Seaways, Colorline, and many others.

sphere in context sphere with facebook visualisation sphere led layout sphere with all LEDs off

Technical information

The sphere surface is constructed of 492 electronic panels containing over 100 000 individually addressable LEDs with a pixel pitch of approximately 16mm. Each circuit board is connected via ethernet to the central simulation computers. The simulation will be calculated by an array of computers working in parallel.

The sphere is constructed in three layers. First an icosohedral space frame creates a very strong rigid core - this underlying structure is connected to a layer of 492 hexagonal steel plates which give shape to the skin of the sphere. Each of these plates in turn supports an electronic circuit board containing a micro controller, LED drivers and the LEDs that form the display. The boards are attached to the structural assembly using a steel back plate, and the LED boards are covered in an external diffusing plexiglass layer.

The geometry of the display has been calculated to create a spherical image without the “pinching” or variation in resolution usually inherent in spherical screens. The display consists of 492 LED boards arranged in a geodesic pattern. There are nine different variations of the basic display board design - each slightly different shapes, and each with a different pattern of LEDs. The layout of LEDs on each board is calculated using a computer program which optimises the positioning of each LED to distribute them evenly across the complex geometry and symmetries of the sphere, while avoiding gaps or disjunction in the pattern between one board and the next. The resulting pattern is a random looking, yet statistically uniform, distribution of pixels.

close up of sub-structure internal view showing ethernet routing screenshot of LED layout process section of manufactured substructure section of manufactured subsctructure closeup of corner element of substructure