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Using Light To Map Real-Time Safety Cues Onto Urban Environments [Future of Light]

Leveraging advances in projection technology to provide directional cues and heads-up warnings to people when they need them.

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

What if lighting in our urban landscapes began reacting to us in a more dynamic way? Could it begin mapping the real-time safety information we need to help us get home safely?

In a trend we are calling Guiding Light, PSFK Labs explores how lighting innovations are leveraging advances in projection technology to map directional cues and heads-up warnings onto the built environment in real-time, enhancing wayfinding and safety. Oftentimes cued to react to different circumstances or deployed on-demand, these technologies deliver a visual guide and assurance where and when people need it. The Rockwell Group‘s Senior Technologist Brett Refner points to the wider potential, telling us, “If you think about it from this really far back level, how do you talk about the ebb and flow of city life, and how do you talk about where people are, and where people are going, and where people should go?”

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One example of this trend takes us to the Sydney Harbour tunnel in Australia, where a lighting solution has been installed to promote traffic safety. Softstop uses light and water to project stop signs onto sheets of water that appear to float in the air. Developed by entertainment communications company Laservision, the barrier system produces a pseudo-holographic “STOP” message that is impossible for drivers to miss.

Unlike conventional warning signs that appear in the peripheral vision of drivers, Softstop appears in their direct view through the use of light overlaid onto mist. The concept solves the persistent problem of drivers ignoring signals to stop by creating the illusion of a solid surface that can be deployed at a moment’s notice. Thinking of a lateral application employing these types of on-demand lighting technologies, Teal Brogden, Senior Principal at Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design notes that, “If you’re trying to manage people and flow during at a large venue like a stadium, you need to be able to reroute people and their flow depending on what the situation is. Lighting can do that effectively and safely.”

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Another example of this trend is the Safety Light, a concept for a road lighting system that can be activated by water during severe storms when streets may be under water and lane markings are obscured. Rainwater triggers an H2O battery, which in turn powers LEDs embedded in the roadway, sending beams of light skyward to guide drivers safely through flooded areas. The lights are intended to help drivers who find themselves in dangerous weather conditions navigate out of harm’s way.

Softstop and the Safety Light point to the ways that temporary signage and warnings could be used on roads and other areas without the need for permanent installations. We may see projection mapping implemented during emergency situation to help people find their way out of an apartment building, stadium or other structure, ensuring orderly evacuations.

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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