Tweet the tree to change its colour

Interactive Christmas tree The interactive Christmas tree in all its glory

When most of us put up our Christmas tree, we whack up a few lights, add a few baubles and decorations and then stand back to admire our work.

Not so for Beth Anderson, a senior software engineer in Future Media, radio and music. She wanted a tree that didn't just twinkle prettily in a corner, but could also interact with you.

Hence, the BBC Radio Christmas tree was born sometime back in July, the month in which it opened a Twitter account and sent its very first tweet: 'Only 154 days until Christmas...just got to survive this hot weather until then!'

Unlike your ordinary variety of pine tree, this one will change the colour of its lights when you send it a tweet. 'You can tweet #red, #blue, #green or any combination of those colours,' Beth tells Ariel. 'The tree is a Raspberry Pi, which is a type of simple, mini computer. It listens to Twitter and when it receives a tweet it will work out what colours to display.

Arduino Uno with a relay shield controlling the lights And then there was ... light!

'This gets sent to an Arduino Uno, another simple computer, which controls three sets of lights. The tree also flashes every three minutes if it's had no updates. When the tree changes colours it tweets the person back to tell them it's changed.'

The idea stated out as as a sketch in Beth's notebook in December 2013, but she ran out of time to get it set up.

This Christmas, however, provided a good opportunity: 'We're a technical team and have just moved into an office with production staff so I wanted to do something that was fun and a bit of an ice-breaker.'

Web developer Laurence Hammond says that 'everyone who has seen it seems to like it', adding: 'It highlights the creativity within the Future Media teams.' Other colleagues have called it 'magic'.

The tree is currently living in New Broadcasting House, on the 8th floor, by the Radio 1/1Xtra production offices - but only until January when it will be sent back to the 'Twitter-tree forest', explains its owner.

The engineer anticipates that it will come back next year with a few additions. 'I did also plan to have a star at the top which displayed the person that changed the lights' name but I needed another Arduino to do that. Next year I'll design a better LED lighting system for him, though. Meanwhile, I'll be re-using some of the components.'

Which brings a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling your Christmas tree once the festivities are over.


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