Hans and Umbach: Prototyping In Light

Hans and Umbach took some time out from their work to help me with my capstone project, where I’m trying to help people maintain a connection with the outdoors when they work inside for a living. In particular I’ve been studying how sunlight plays with indoor architectural spaces, and how the shapes of cast light change throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. My explorations have been deeply inspired by the work of Daniel Rybakken, Adam Frank, and Philips’ efforts with dynamic lighting.

I wanted to create a device that would mimic the movement of the sun throughout the day, and I turned to Hans and Umbach for advice as to how to build such a thing. They recommended something as simple as a clock movement with a paper screen that would rotate, changing the angle and position of a beam of light from a Maglite over the course of time. Deemed Chrono we set forth to build such a prototype, to see how it would work.

"Outside In" Chrono Prototype Construction

"Outside In" Chrono Prototype Construction

"Outside In" Chrono Prototype Construction

"Outside In" Chrono Prototype Stage

Light is a tricky beast to prototype with, to be sure, but these small steps begin to point us in the right direction. We recorded a few time-lapse videos that show the movement of the prototype in a simulated office desk environment, condensing thirteen minutes of movement into less than two minutes:

The electronics are simple, but it’s an interesting and subtle way to communicate the slow passage of time within “embodied” space!


  1. February 24, 2010 – 7:59 pm

    Wow Dane, cool!

    You’re reminding me of this idea I once had:

    A Roomba-esque platform to set a house plant on top of. The platform would have wheels, and a motor connected to a light sensor. The light sensor would track the position of sunlight in the room, so the plant could change its position throughout the day to stay in the sun. Kind of a fun concept to set a plant free to roam as though it were an animal.

    Wowsers, soon I might even have the skills to try and prototype something that was initially just a crazy daydream!

    I love the videos you’re producing Dane, this is a really fun way to keep up with your work!

  2. February 24, 2010 – 8:18 pm

    Haha, yes! Mobile attack plants! Set them free to chase the light!

    Thanks for the props on the videos! I’ve got more in the hopper, and I’m always trying to carve out more time to get them published. Last night I managed to connect an SNES controller (and then a Wii Nunchuck) to an Arduino, and capture the resulting serial output. Cool stuff!