The wide open sky is both an image and a phrase often used to represent freedom, happiness, and a whole host of other positive things. Unfortunately for most of us, we spend the majority of our time under a ceiling instead of under the sky. (Of course, during inclement weather, I’d call that more of a blessing than a curse.) Still, the idea of spending the day working with the sun and sky above is an attractive one to many people, which the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) is capitalizing on.
But Why Can’t I Move My Desk Outside?
Rather than building cubicles with no roof – remember, inclement weather and also keep in mind the difficulty of climate control if one side of the cube is just gone – researchers designed a luminous ceiling that imitates the sky.
The idea might seem a little simplistic, but it’s more than just projecting puffy white clouds and blue light onto a white ceiling, or even running footage of the sky on a set of LCD screens. In order to properly simulate outdoor light, the intensity of the light has to fluctuate randomly and continuously.
Light generation is where the IAO researchers called in LEiDs GmbH, a company which produces energy-efficient LED technology. Since generating the requisite amount of light is likely to need quite a bit of energy, it made sense to use the greenest lights possible on the first run-through. The joint effort resulted in a pretty neat little ceiling consisting of lots and lots of square tiles.
It’s All In the Diodes
The ceiling tiles, each measuring about 20” x 20”, have 288 LEDs built in. They’ve also got a matte white diffuser film about a foot below the diodes to keep the pinpoints of light looking like, well, pinpoints of light. The diodes in question are red, blue, green, and white so that the full light spectrum can be produced – over 16 million possible hues, according to the IAO, not all of which can be differentiated by the naked eye.
The issue isn’t whether or not you can immediately see the lighting changes, though, it’s how you interpret them, and that’s where attention to detail really comes into play. In order to figure out how sunlight changes over the course of a partially-cloudy day, researchers first had to measure it. The next step was figuring out how much change was just enough, but not too much – the line between soul-deadeningly boring and super distracting.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The IAO tested their brilliant idea on a group of volunteers with a small set-up (12” x 24”). They tried static light, slowly changing light, and rapid fluctuations. The volunteers described the set-up as “very pleasant,” but they did choose the quickest fluctuations as the most ideal. (Perhaps they want to be distracted?)
Further practice – and exhibition – will come at the CeBIT tradeshow in Hannover, Germany next March, where the prototype will illuminate IOA’s booth.
The imitation sky is currently for sale, but it’s not cheap. It’s a thousand euros per square meter (or $120/square foot). Of course, if it gets more popular and can be mass-produced or produced more cheaply, the price will come down – not unlikely!
Sound like something you’d want at work? Or maybe even at home? Let us know in the comments, below.
Source: Gizmag | Image: Fraunhofer.de.