Technology Helps Times Square New Year's Eve Ball Drop Run Smoothly
How many times have you seen video of the ball dropping from Times Square on New Year's Eve? Ever wonder whether it's more than just gravity that brings it down? In the following report, NY1 Tech Beat Reporter Adam Balkin takes a look inside the most famous ball in the world.
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The New Year’s Eve ball has 40,000 watts of power and lighting equivalent to that of a Broadway show. It’s a far cry from the original ball dropped 99 years ago.
“The original ball made in 1907 was made of iron and wood, and it had 100 light bulbs on it. It was the latest in technology in 1907,” says Jeffrey Strauss of Countdown Entertainment.
Never mind those 25-watt bulbs are like a candle compared to the 168 Philips Halogena bulbs designed specifically to make today's ball shine brighter than any other. In between the 504 Waterford crystal triangles are 90 rotating pyramid mirrors, each controlled individually by computers.
“Basically you have two consoles. One controls all of the effects in the ball and the sign, the other controls the moving lights lighting the ball,” says Peter Acken of Countdown Entertainment. “There are roughly 700 time code events in this show, maybe more.”
“We can move them clockwise, counter clockwise, we can stutter them or move them really fast, and it creates all kinds of kinetic energy on top with the ball,” says Strauss. “We have certain patterns we use every year, but every year we try to add something different, maybe more of a wave pattern of the lights, or create different colors.”
Now I'm going to let you in on a little secret: you know the button the mayor and his guests push with 10 seconds to go before midnight? This doesn't actually set the real ball in motion. It's a lot more complicated than that.
“We realized that the revelers here in Times Square don't know what's happening on top of the building, so we wanted to create a visual that they could see on the street as part of the ceremony. It's a ceremonial button,” says Strauss.
And, truth be told, they push it with a minute to go, and the final moments aren't really that complex.
“What we do is we get a Global Positioning System signal from the atomic clock in Colorado, which is the main clock the government uses to guide all of its electronic devices, whether it's missiles or planes or anything like that,” says Tim Tomkins of the Times Square Business Improvement District.
Then a guy who's watching that clock pushes a far less glitzy button, and the ball is lowered electrically with winches.
“We have preset positions, preset speed, and you just hit the run button and it comes down in about a minute,” says Harold Allison of Countdown Entertainment. “If for some reason it doesn't work electrically, it can be lowered manually, but that would kind of be a little ugly.”
The New Year’s ball ugly? Impossible.
- Adam Balkin