Introduction: MSPF Unsilence the Newsbin

Unsilence the Newsbin is an art project that creates the rebirth of the newsbin that are no longer in use.

As a fairly new dweller in the Bay Area, those countless newsbins spread on the Market Street always catch my eyes. I looked for the newsbin that contain newspapers so I can have a physically touching engagement with the city. Often I found that most of the newsbins are empty and not in use, and it makes me feel lonely while watching them standing silently. They blend into the background color of the city, and countless people simply passed by day after day.

I started to imagine how those newsbins feel after silently watching the city’s growth, the people’s movement, and the fog’s temper for decades.

And then, the idea of “UNSILENCE" the Newsbin started growing...

Step 1: Materials

This list is for one unit for each newsbin "box" -

1x Moteino Transceiver: RFM69W - 433Mhz

1x LED strip: I used the same LED strip from this best tutorial by Adafruit

3x MOSFET N-CH 60V 55A TO-220 from DigiKey

1x Photo Interrupter from SparkFun

1x 9v battery

1x 12v rechargeable battery

some wires

1x cardboard box

Step 2: Design

Originally I had three aspects of creating the installation: Output, Input and Two-Way, which are all fulfilled with several ideas. By creating playful, interesting and interactive installations, people can gain a special experience while walking on the Market Street, and also feel the lively culture of San Francisco.

After several iterations, I decided on the most simple one - creating random lights when someone open the newsbin, so the idea was simple enough that I can work on myself. However, after getting more exciting feedback from two community engaging events, I wanted to create a more dynamic and rich interaction, which ideally include sound, such as music, single note, or even an audio news would be really cool.

Fortunately, after our first meeting with the Design Captain - Gensler, I met David Mayman, who is the designer for ARENA | PLAY and did all the technical design. David introduced Moteino to me, gave me a lot of guidance to achieve my goal, and has been really helpful and resourceful along the way.


The idea is to give the existed silence newsbin a new life, so I don't want to make the exterior part of the newsbin different. Hence, I purposely only designed installation that will be placed/hidden in the newsbin, so the newsbin looks the same, but act different.


Basically Arduino IDE with some schematic sketches (see images above). I also tried to use Fritzing, but it's not more helpful.

Step 3: Fabrication - Building Process

  1. Gather all the materials: cardboard box, 9v battery, 12v rechargeable battery, photo interrupter, Moteino, LED strip, MOSFET, wires
  2. Put together the electronics based on the designed circuit schematic. For the LED strip schematic, I recommend this tutorial from Adafruit.
  3. Use a stick with the LED strip so it can be straight and easier while placing in the newsbin
  4. Make a rectangle hole on top of the box and insert the photo interrupter
  5. Put everything, except LED strip, into the box and try to connect the photo interrupter with the circuit
  6. Close the box and this is the complete unit for one newsbin!

Don't forget to upload the code to the Moteino :P

#define SERIAL_BAUD   115200
#define LED 9 // Moteinos have LEDs on D9
#define BLUEPIN 3
#define REDPIN 6
#define GREENPIN 5
const int interrupterPin = 7;
int interrupterState = 0;

int LEDcolor = 3;
int fadingPeroid = 5000; // Execute for this many millis()
long lastOpened = 0; // The clock time in millis()
int r,g,b;struct palette
  int id;
  const char cid[20];
  char name[20];
  int r;
  int g;
  int b;
}color[11] = {
void setup() {
  pinMode(REDPIN, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(BLUEPIN, OUTPUT);  
  pinMode(interrupterPin, INPUT);
int flag = 0;
long lastPeriod = 0;
int fadingSpeed = 15;
void loop() {  
  int wait = (millis()-lastOpened)%180000;
  if( wait > 0 && wait <= 1000 ){
    if(flag == 0){
      LEDcolor = random(1, 7);
      flag = 1;
    if(wait == 1000){
      flag = 0;
void LED_strip_color(int r, int g, int b){  
  analogWrite(REDPIN, r);
  analogWrite(GREENPIN, g);
  analogWrite(BLUEPIN, b);    }

Step 4: Installation

Installation part was actually pretty easy for me, just stick the LED strip and the box in the newsbin, make sure the photo interrupter is in the right place, turn on the 12v battery, and then secure the newsbin door (loosely by cable ties.) However, like every electric installation, some units just didn't go well even if it was fine when I assembled it at home. That was the most difficult part as I had to debug (see if there are some wires went off) on the spot.

Everyday at the end I took out all the rechargeable 12v batteries and charged them over night, so the next morning I'll need to cut out all the cable tie, put back the batteries, make sure they all still work, and close the newsbin door.

Step 5: Interaction & Final Thoughts

Interaction is easy. Just open the newsbin door and you get a random LED light!

It was amazing to see the installation go live and have so many people play with it and happy that this underused newsbin is alive again! I definitely learned a lot during the festival and have a lot of precious moments. Especially when I set up a billboard-like space to ask people what they thought about repurposing the newsbin, I'm surprised how many people are willing to stop by and leave a note! And I wouldn't have this idea if some of the installations weren't stolen. That was the best twist of the festival.

I've learned a lot along the way. Starting from preparing the proposal, actual design it and implement it, to seeing people interact with it, there are so many things could be improved and be better! Although this installation is not the one that really attract people, because the newsbins have been on the street and people are used to it, this idea is the most meaningful to me. If those underused infrastructures are not being removed anytime soon, I really think we should spend time on making the existing infrastructures more meaningful and delightful. If they have emotions, they would be really exciting to make a change!