What does the future of smart, integrated lighting look like? This summer, I got to think about how I would answer that question while working with Dr. Robert Stuart-Smith and several architecture graduate students on PennDesign’s P2P Siteless House. This house is a gridless, 300-square-feet tiny home designed for disassembly. It utilizes robotic hot-wire manufacturing to cut blocks of foam which are used to cast concrete slabs that form the house. Since its novel approach allows for more interesting geometry while conserving materials (the foam serves as insulation in the final home), this smart tiny house pushes the boundaries of conventional tiny house design and sustainability. It’s truly a lesson in form meets function, as the 3D models the house is based upon generates gestural curves which serve as the house’s large windows and beautiful seams that not only look elegant, but lead to alcoves and private spaces.
While the house is novel in its construction, it was originally intended to be a smart home. Thus, I wanted to apply my background as an electrical engineering student to the design of a smart lighting system. What I created was a gesture-based LED lighting system with four modes: ambient lighting, motion-controlled brightness and color, appliance interfacing, and entertainment presets. The lighting system is composed of two cameras: one facing indoors, one outdoors, a computer, an arduino microcontroller, and several LED strips which seamlessly integrate into the house’s ceilings. The user interacts with the lighting by sweeping their hand in front of the indoor camera from left to right to control color and up and down to control brightness. The outdoor camera matches the color temperature of the LED strips to the ambient lighting outside the house. The lighting can also notify users of the status of their appliances and offers presets for entertainment and music. The result is a lighting experience that accentuates the house’s natural geometry while creating new relationships between the house’s outdoor and indoor environments.
As an engineering student working in the architecture department, I got a glimpse into a field that I was always interested in and wanted to contribute to creatively. Both architecture and engineering are very hands-on fields and I was happy that my research was able to exemplify that aspect through the creation of my lighting system. I learned about the design process that architects go through to design and construct a house, from rendering and lofting curves in 3D modelling software to writing scripts for the robots to casting a concrete mold myself. My PURM grant allowed me to experience all aspects of research, as I am currently co-authoring a paper about my lighting system and designing my own hardware and software for the lighting system. I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity and to my advisor for including me in the whole design experience. I plan on continuing my work on the lighting system by scaling it and further integrating it with the house, as construction will start this fall!