Illuminating the real-time information streams

Illuminating The Real-Time Information Streams Flowing Around Us [Future of Light]

Lighting sources are dynamically capturing and syncing with the real-time information around us to communicate location-specific information.

At a static level, light calls attention to the structures and spaces around us, relying on simple variations in hue and intensity to convey information we need to determine everything from mood to safe passage. But what if it were to become a more dynamic source of information? Could our lighting sources be programmed to somehow react to the abundance of real-time information circulating around us and in itself become a vessel of information?

In a trend we are calling Speed of Light, PSFK Labs has seen innovators exploring light as a means of transferring and communicating information. Whether by beaming hyper-relevant data and information to phones in a retail environment, or converting real-time data streams into intuitive and engaging visual information for public display, these lighting solutions help inject relevant information into a person’s surroundings, providing an additional layer of context. “I think we need to start thinking about data arts and data visualization. Through lighting and projection, you have this ability to react and be dynamic,” explains Brett Renfer, Senior Technologist at Rockwell Group during our conversation.


One example of this trend is Immaterials, a measuring tool that uses light to visualize the strength of the intangible Wi-Fi networks around the city of Oslo, Norway. Developed by the research group YOUrban, the installation features 80 LEDs running its entire length that pulsate, rising or falling based on the strength of a selected Wi-Fi network. Using time-lapse photography the team was able to capture attributes of networks and map them against the backdrop of the physical city. Through the fluid movement of light, digital qualities such as network strength, consistency and reach are shown as material manifestations, providing valuable information to the homes and businesses the signal is meant to serve.


In another example of this trend, a NYC-based design student has developed an LED wall unit that uses light to convey the daily weather forecast. The wall unit is rigged with a digitally-addressable LED script that lights up in accordance with the current weather forecast. For example, the wall sconces will display the high temperature of the day in a sequence of red lights, while the percent chance of precipitation is displayed in blue. The sculpture is controlled by a small acrylic cube that contains is a gyroscope, accelerometer, XBee radio and lithium-polymer battery. Rotating the cube to face an icon upwards will switch the LEDs between 6 modes which can account for a number of weather conditions. The project was conceived by design student and contributor to how-to site Instructables contributor, Adiel Fernandez.

Immaterials and the LED wall unit show how light can be used to capture and communicate location-specific information. We may expect to see bus stations and other transportation options glow in accordance with the proximity of transport.

These examples also fall under a larger theme we are calling Enlightened Communication, which explores solutions that investigate the way light can be used as a communication tool, either visually conveying information through color, design and frequency or as a medium for transmitting data over distances.

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 aniOS and Android app or as a downloadable PDF.