Lighting Exploration Project

A year long exploratory project for Advanced Higher Art & Design exploring perceptual relationship with nature through a semiotic analysis in the context of lighting design.

Art and Design, as opposed to the engineering-based Product Design, focuses less on tech-based skillets or problem-solving as it does on theme exploration and expressive content with theoretical frameworks applied. I started with a basic idea to explore the geometry and regular patterns in the natural environment, evolved from the abandoned theme of ‘capturing motion’; exploring movement in form.

lighting tests in the dark room
Images from some initial dark room experiments on form development.

This interest in geometric form in nature morphed into an exploration of what certain patterns and shapes mean to people, observing the boundary between organic form and the more geometric patterns which often underpin them and how this can be used loosely as a method to explore a broader conception of ‘nature’ and the built environment.

Given the long timescale format, I decided that I wanted to introduce a more technical element of my own accord, learning over the course of the year to use Arduino and constructing multiple prototypes and methods of lighting and interfacing with light. This foundational knowledge in code laid the path to my later interest in JavaScript and other technologies.

a triangle-based prototype
A collage of images from the ‘triangles’ development route.

One particular branch of exploration which interested me was this exploration of triangular formations. The triangle or triangular-pyramid provides a repetitive tiling structure but the angles of 30 and 60 degrees added an element of rapidly expansive complexity (akin to polygons in CAD modelling) which opened a great many possibilities in a short amount of time.

In addition to Arduino controlled lighting, polymorph plastic played an integral role in the projects outcomes. Polymorph is a polymer with properties very close to polymethacrylate that can be moulded at around 60 degrees, allowing it to be melted down and moulded over and over again. As it turns out, it also has great optical properties as well.

final presentation board
The final outcomes in various scenarios showing the Arduino controller and capacitive touch panel.

The final design was a range of units, designed to be placed apart as part of a set, which function as sculptural pieces as well as mood lighting and manipulation. The units are lined with RGB LED’s to diffuse light across their bodies, hooked up to an Arduino controller and optional control panel.

Several programs were written for different effects. Capacitive touch and proximity detection was used whereby the Arduino could detect electro-magnetic interference near a circuit and respond. Once program had the panel respond to toggle colours on and off on touch. Another detected user’s proximity to an individual unit and lit the rest up like a ‘heat map’, in response to the relative position.

The idea was that, with more psychological user research, the units could read the users mood and respond with an appropriate stimulus colour.

CCV Interface

A very early project to engineer a desk table with built in computer interface extension.

This project, developed over the summer of 2013, was one of the first ever long-form, self-directed projects I undertook. A small, movable work table with a reflected PC display extension and touch capability. It was built on the open source software Community Core Vision (CCV).

community core vision software
The main interface for CCV, on the left is the raw infrared image, the right shows the filtered image and registered touch points.

CCV is an open source software designed to interpolate data from an infra-red camera for use in this kind of project. The above image shows data from an experiment before the LED arrays were even introduced (i.e. working only with ambient IR light), already the software can detect ‘clicks’.

a disassembled and modified webcam
The final camera assembly after modification.

The device works by flooding the display sheet of polymethacrylate with strips of infra-red light via IR LED arrays. A small standard webcam is housed inside, modified to block visible light and pick up IR radiation. The IR light is even throughout the sheet until something comes into contact with the surface, at which point light deflects into the camera. The camera is in continuous use by the CCV software.

testing a prototype for the ccv table
Throughout development and testing, several mock-ups were setup to simulate different conditions such as the amount of outside light pollution and camera / projector distance tolerances.

To design the casing, I created a minimalist but aesthetic form, inspired by the set design of one of the Star Trek movies. The display is created by linear setup of a projector reflecting off a mirror. The table has to encase the projector reflection assembly and camera with minimal light bleeding in so avoiding a ‘blocky’ aesthetic was a challenge.

an exploded view of the components
The exploded CAD model, designed as a reference for the real-world build.

A full assembly was designed with a wooden frame clad in sections of polymethacrylate to give a smooth aesthetic in line with trends at the time. The table was designed with home / workshop manufacture in mind; I did intend to make it only opting not to due to cost and storage constraints.

In reflection I realised that I had, for the longest time, brushed away this project because of a restrictive mindset I was in at the time; this has no particularly beautiful renders or SQA-style presentation sheets. However, on closer analysis, I am very satisfied with how this project came out; the design was ready for manufacture, the projector camera assembly was working, acting as a proof of concept, and much was learned about electronics, interface software and engineering techniques which would serve useful later on.