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Graduate student designs app to enhance laser light show

By Kat Prosachik / Staff Writer

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At this year’s homecoming fireworks and laser show, spectators can do more than watch the fireworks in the sky above them — they can experience it from their palms.

Nymbus, an app developed by Pitt Theatre arts graduate student David Wright, turns smartphones into glow sticks by displaying different colors, effects and text. The audience can use the app at tonight’s homecoming laser and fireworks show, which begins at 9 p.m. on Bigelow Boulevard. The Pitt Program Council will sponsor the event and will not be paying Wright to do the show. 

Wright is currently working on his doctorate in Pitt’s theatre arts program  and developed the app because he said he wanted to take audience participation to a new level.

“I was thinking strictly of a social app that allowed theater-goers to engage socially during a show,” Wright said in an email. “The idea of sitting quietly during a performance is only about 150-200 years old.”

The Nymbus team of developers, business staff and Nick Amoscato, a spring 2014 computer science and music graduate, worked with Lightwave International — the designers of the laser show — to create effects with the app that would enhance the show for four songs. 

Audience interaction at events has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Last year, three New York plays, encouraged audience members to get up and start walking and dancing around during the show to feel as though they were a part of it.

During this year’s show, when the four Nymbus-enhanced songs begin, a laser projection will appear to cue audience members to open the app. At that point, a light show will begin on the app users’ phones to complement the show occurring around them. 

Thomas Misuraca, assistant director of student life, said this year’s show will combine lasers, fireworks and other pyrotechnics, all synchronized to a soundtrack.

“The app will basically turn your phone into a glow stick, changing colors and patterns to go with the music,” Misuraca said.

The Nymbus app is free and available for iOS and Android devices. Audience members can download Nymbus for free, but Wright has implemented a business model to monetize the app. 

Wright got his start with Pitt’s Innovation Institute when he participated in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition , according to the institute’s director of education and outreach Babys Carryer. At this time, Wright had already developed Nymbus but needed guidance and mentoring. She said Wright wasn’t ready to work on research or find another job, and he wanted to pursue a startup with Nymbus. 

“We helped to unleash the entrepreneur, to give him the confidence and courage to move forward – into the unknown that is the world of entrepreneurship,” Carryer said.

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Graduate student designs app to enhance laser light show