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Illuminating Hidden Pathways Using Projected Light [Future of Light]

Projection lighting technologies can deliver a visual guide and assurance where and when people need it.

PSFK Labs
PSFK Labs on September 30, 2013. @psfk

Whether we’re aware of them or not, we use lighting cues to help us navigate our lives on a daily basis. An inviting neon sign helps indicate that businesses are open, while lights off me nobody is home. But what if these signals were to become more specific, assisting us through individual decisions and situations as they arise?

In a trend we are calling Guiding Light, PSFK Labs has noticed that lighting innovations leverage advances in projection technology by mapping directional cues and heads up warnings onto surfaces in real-time. Oftentimes cued to react to different circumstances or deployed on-demand, these technologies deliver a visual guidance where and when people need it. “The bigger idea of embedded or contextual lighting and projection for wayfinding and placemaking is something that is an area exploding with growth,” explains Brett Renfer, senior technologist at Rockwell Group during his conversation with the PSFK Labs’ team.

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One example leveraging projection technology as a directional cue is the PoolLiveAid, a prototype for an augmented reality system that projects lines onto a pool table to help players aim their shots. Developed by researchers at the University of the Algarve in Portugal, the augmented laser guidance system is capable of detecting the position of balls, cue stick and table, creating a tool for teaching aim and shot selection. Using a projector mounted above the table that has been hooked up to a computer, the system is able to continually show the ever changing path the cue ball is expected to travel based where the player is aiming, while taking into account the positions of the other balls.

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Jaewoo Chung’s Guiding Light is a project from MIT Media Lab that projects wayfinding arrows from a smartphone onto the floor to create an illuminated GPS system indoors. Using a smartphone with a mini-projector and magnetic positioning, Guiding Light projects an arrow on the ground that directs a user to their desired destination. The technology’s Bluetooth badge is equipped with four magnetic sensor arrays, uncovering a user’s location within the magnetic fields of any given building.

While the technology requires no special infrastructure, each building needs to be “magnetically mapped” first. In contrast to existing heads-up displays that push information into the user’s field of view, Guiding Light works on a pull principle, relying entirely on users’ requests and control of information. During our conversation, Usman Haque, director of Haque Design + Research noted, “The logical step beyond using mobile phones as augmented reality interfaces is actually projecting information on to the urban fabric. Floors and steps are obvious, but underutilized, informational projection surfaces as well.”

Guiding Light and PoolAidLive point to the ways that relevant information can be layered onto physical environments through light to guide us in new ways. We may see more mapping of directional cues onto the physical environment at outdoor events like concerts or plays, indicating the location of things like restrooms and food and drink vendors. Or projection mapping could be used during emergency situations which assist with helping people find a way out of their building.

These examples also fall into a larger theme we are calling Enlightened Communication, where designers are exploring the use of light as a substitute for physical boundaries, helping to change the way people perceive their surroundings. These solutions work to demarcate new areas on demand, creating flexible environments which can accommodate different use cases and be redefined according to needs.

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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