Responsive Light Mirrors Human Movement To Create Engaging Spaces [Future of Light]

Responsive Light Mirrors Human Movement To Create Engaging Spaces [Future of Light]

Technologies are being used to translate people's gestures into graphic images of light to achieve different ends.

  • 29 september 2013

At a time where people are becoming increasingly inundated by a seemingly endless stream of media, marketing, messages and alerts, the most vied-for commodity is someone’s undivided attention. This question has technologists rethinking the ways that light can draw people in and keep them interested in retail environments, museums and other public settings. Beyond sheer novelty, innovators are discovering practical uses for these interactions as well, exploring how these technologies can be deployed in therapeutic settings to alleviate stress or promote deeper engagement with educational exhibits, suggesting a larger array of opportunities than what was previously possible.

In a trend we are calling Light Painting, PSFK Labs has noticed that technologies are tracking people’s ephemeral gestures and translating them into graphic images of light. These installations are lowering the barrier to engagement through intuitive interfaces which instantly respond to user movements, allowing anyone to playfully experiment and create a desired outcome. In our conversation with Winka Dubbeldam, Principal at ArchiTectonics, she told us, “The idea of light as art on an urban scale is amazing. What’s really amazing about it is that people love to play with it. It creates within a very strict and severe urban environment.”


An example of this trend come from Crayola, who has upped the ante on art supplies with the development of a battery-operated stylus for the iPad that allows users to draw with light just by moving their hands in the air. Resembling a standard Crayola marker, the Light Marker beams light to the front-facing camera on the iPad to detect a user’s gestures, which are translated into images that appear on the tablet’s screen. The accompanying Light Marker app features an assortment of coloring pages, puzzles, paint splatter brushes and drawing tools to deepen the experience for users and allow them to share their creations with friends.


Artists have long been exploring the ways that multiple forms of expression can be combined to create hybrids works that draw the view in. To that end, we find Future Self, a performative light installation that maps and replicates human movement. Created by interactive design group rAndom International and located at the MADE exhibition space in Berlin, the project was presented as part of a dance performance coordinated by choreographer Wayne McGregor and composer Max Richter. Two dancers moved around the perimeter of the installation while 3D cameras recorded the shapes made by their bodies and replayed them on a brass grid of over 10,000 LED lights. The image created by the lights always resembles a single figure, no matter how many people approach it at once. The installation studies human movement and the notion of our present and future selves, using the interaction between dance, light and sound.

The Light Marker and Future Self point to the playful ways that gesture-tracking technologies can be synced with light to create engaging experiences across a diverse range of environments. We may see more exhibits merging playful engagement with education by employing light installations that track participants and offer coaching for movement-based activities like dancing.

Technologies like Light Marker and Future Self also fall into a larger theme we are calling Illuminated Expression, which explores how scalable lighting technologies are making it possible for individuals, brands and entire cities to visually express their identity and imagination and communicate their vision to the wider community.

The Future of Light series explores light’s potential to improve lives, build communities, and connect people in new and meaningful ways. Brought to you in partnership with Philips Lighting, a full report is available as an iOS and Android app or as a downloadable PDF.


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