How Responsive Lighting Connects People To Their Environments [Future of Light]

How Responsive Lighting Connects People To Their Environments [Future of Light]

Advances in sensor technology are using illumination to create an intuitive and highly personalized link between people and their surroundings.

  • 22 september 2013

Can better lighting improve lives? Some of the leading innovators in urban planning and product design seem to think so. They are leveraging rapid advances in sensor technology to create lighting solutions that respond to people in new and unique ways to change how people interact with and experience their surroundings both on a personal level and at scale.

In a trend we are calling Responsive Environments, PSFK Labs looks at how individual products and networked installations and systems are reacting to a person’s presence to provide on-demand illumination and often, tailored lighting experiences.


One example that supports this trend is Clyde. This expressive LED desk lamp can be programmed with personality modules to react to both an owner and its surroundings. Using Arduino technology, an open-source electronics software, the lamp can be ‘taught’ to respond with different colors and intensities of light when certain conditions occur. For example, when Clyde is in ‘afraid of the dark’ mode, it can light up depending on how dark a room is. In ‘touchy feely’ mode, Clyde cycles through different light colors when you touch its flexible legs. The project was created by Canadian design company Fabule Fabrications and successfully backed through crowdfunding site Kickstarter.


Amanda Williams, co-founder of Fabule Fabrications, told us:

Sensing and networking help us create environments that are “smart”, but when it comes to homes we strongly believe that we need spaces that are warm, welcoming, and expressive, as well as smart. To get there, we need really well-designed displays; this includes light, but also sound, color, temperature, and texture. The home is also a very personal space; we tailor it to our needs and desires, so why should our high-tech home devices be any different?

While the the Clyde lamp’s programmable interface offers simple customization options for people’s lifestyles and homes, these responsive technologies have implications that go beyond aesthetics. They can also deliver greater efficiency and savings at scale. Philips Lighting CEO Eric Rondolat writes, “Intelligent lighting provides the right amount of light precisely where it is needed and when it is needed. This enables municipal authorities to save energy and maintenance costs and to reduce obtrusive light, while making urban spaces safer and more attractive, thus strengthening city branding.”


To that end, the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands has installed a centralized lighting management system that enables the effective and efficient deployment of light across the urban landscape. Incorporating CityTouch technology from Philips, the solution enables the city to track the consumption and output of every part of the system and fine-tune lighting levels to meet local needs in real-time. Each bright spot can be controlled by radio frequency and can react with the push of a button if there is sudden calamity where more light is needed. When combined with LED lighting, City Touch can achieve up to 70% savings in energy usage.


Technologies like Clyde and CityTouch fall under the larger theme we’re calling Luminous Relationships, which explores how lighting designs can trigger positive emotional responses, changing a person’s relationship with their friends and family, their surroundings and even the products that occupy their lives.

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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