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Holiday Innovation: Tweet At Your Christmas Tree To Light It Up

Maker and <em>Make</em> magazine contributor Jeff Highsmith created this miniature Twitter-connected LED Christmas tree last year as part of the CheerLights project.
Courtesy of Jeff Highsmith
Maker and Make magazine contributor Jeff Highsmith created this miniature Twitter-connected LED Christmas tree last year as part of the CheerLights project.

In our "Weekly Innovation" blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form. This one, friends, is a special holiday edition.

We at All Tech Considered read a lot about "smart" things — devices that connect to the Internet with the intention of making your life easier. Beyond smartphones, there are smart washing machines that alert your phone when the load is finished, smart thermostats that adjust the temperature automatically to your heating preferences — so it's not so much of a stretch, perhaps, to connect your Christmas lights to the Internet, too.

That's the idea behind , a do-it-yourself contraption using color-changing LEDs and an Arduino-based controller that connects to Twitter. Anyone in the world can change the color by tweeting about CheerLights. (Want to see what color it is now? Click here.)

The goal of the project, created in 2011 by ioBridge Labs, evokes an odd combination of world domination and holiday cheer: It's trying to synchronize Christmas lights on a global level.

ioBridge co-founder Hans Scharler — who once connected his toaster to Twitter — says the project has received more than 5,000 tweets this year.

"People are jumping in and joining the project," Scharler says. "The interesting thing has been the types of things people have connected to the project."

Among other things: iPhone apps, Android apps and Chrome browser plug-ins that show the current CheerLights color. One open-source blogger, Patrick Fenner, created an LED Christmas tree, topped with a 3-D-printed star, whose colors spiral up the tree every time Twitter commands them to change.

Jeff Highsmith, who also created the electronic tooth fairy that we covered earlier this year, made a "CheerBot," a camera on wheels that roams around his house looking for patches of color. When it finds a suitable patch, the CheerBot changes the lights on Highsmith's Christmas tree and occasionally tweets out the current color so that every CheerLight around the world changes accordingly.

Sure, a Twitter-controlled light set isn't the most useful smart device. It doesn't count your Christmas dinner calories or remind you to buy presents for your nieces. But it is, hands down, the most cheery. And we think that makes life a little better, too.

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Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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