Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Virtual Sky - Working under an Open Sky

Do you feel happy working under a clear blue sky as opposed to working in a stark office environment? Are your office employees shuffling around like zombies, or nodding off to a sleepy start in the conference room during meetings? Then fear not, for Virtual Sky will improve your employees productivity by providing them a chance to work under the infinite horizon of a clear blue sky! Or so that is how it goes...

This is how I work ever day (not the Party Rock way...)

Reading a recent news article from the technology section, I went in search for more information regarding this new innovation. Developed by Stuttgard-based Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, or IAO in short (Institut fur Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation) and exhibited in CeBIT Trade Fair in Hannover in March 6-12, 2012 was a matrix of ceiling lighting panels simulating clouds moving across a clear sky.

The Dynamics of Lighting

In fact that is the purpose of the design: to recreate the subtly changing lighting conditions of a cloudy sky. Changes in the light spectrum will occur in a cloudy day mainly due to the movement of clouds across the sky, and a study from that institute found that this dynamic change in lighting conditions heightens awareness and hence improve productivity.

A dynamic lighting condition recreated through Virtual Sky will promote concentration and heighten alertness (image taken from Fraunhofer website).

Having said that, the flickering of a broken fluorescent light is annoying as hell, and that is a dynamic light-changing condition right? In fact, the dynamic changes in Virtual Sky is subtle, with the frequency set right enough so that it will fluctuate enough to promote concentration and heighten alertness yet imperceptible to the eye.

It seems too that rapid fluctuations are more preferred than a lazy change in lighting conditions as was reported in Wired. Well, as long as it is not flickering like a fluorescent lamp gone bad, I guess...

The Technology Behind

As an engineer who had worked with lighting technology before, I couldn't help but wonder what is the key technology behind achieving this. I am of course not wondering how the lighting could be changed - you could achieve that with pre-programmed microcontrollers.

From what I understand from the official Fraunhofer website, the lighting is achieved through the use of tiles of LEDs, with 288 LEDs per a 50cm x 50cm tile. The use of LED as light source for Virtual Sky's tiles is not surprising, but the key technology is the matte white diffuser film hanging about 30cm below the the light array.

The diffuser film's importance could not be overstressed because LEDs present themselves as points of light as you would observe in modern traffic lights. This would not be able to recreate a tile that look like a cloud covered sky but with the help of a diffuser, the lighting would spread across more homogeneously and will illuminate a room more effectively.

Nothing beats the Monday blues with a different kind of blue... (image taken from TechCentral)

The tiles are comprised of 4 types of colored LEDs - blue, red, green and white. The use of these colors will enable the recreation of the full light spectrum and more than 16 million hues. Wait a minute... Doesn't the former 3 colors mix together to create white light? In fact it is not as efficient as using a white LED to add to the hue and brightness of the lighting.

The prototyped Virtual Sky was developed with 34,560 LEDs spanning an area of 34 square meters and could power up to 3,000 lux at full power. As a reference, 500 - 1,000 lux is enough for comfortable lighting conditions.

If my office is going to look like this, I definitely would stop working and just enjoy the scenery... (picture taken from Wallpaperstock.net).


So how much does this cost? €1,000 per square feet. (@_@)
Who's paying? Your boss.

So do you think this will be seen in your office anytime soon? I don't think so... Anyway, if they are trying to simulate our Malaysian sunny sky, then I rather stay inside a stark office environment. It may be a blessing to get a sunny sky with clouds floating past lazily in a generally cold country, but the scene of a blue sky in Malaysia only reminds me how hot it is.

For the interested readers though, here are some links where the technology is reported:

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting article. Totally worth it for offices where ppl get excited just to see the sun, like you said, and not for offices in sunny Malaysia.


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