4 January 2012

Virtual sky makes for happier workers

by Will Parker

The European developers of a luminous ceiling that mimics the lighting effects of passing clouds say that their artificial skyscape creates a more pleasant office environment for workers. Lead developer Dr. Matthias Bues, from the Fraunhofer Institute (Stuttgart), said the ceiling recreates the feeling of spaciousness and freedom that people experience outdoors.

Bues' luminous ceiling is made up of multiple 50cm by 50cm tiles with each tile containing 288 light emitting diodes (LEDs). A diffuser film is attached approximately 30cm beneath the tile to ensure that the individual points of LED light are not distinguishable. Bues and his co-researchers used a combination of red, blue, green and white LEDs in order to reproduce the full light spectrum of daylight. More than 16 million different hues can be generated by the tiles.

Bues says the main focus in developing the virtual sky was to simulate natural lighting conditions on a cloudy day. To that end, the researchers carefully examined natural lighting to find out how and when the light spectrum changes when clouds move across the sky. "The LEDs allow us to simulate these dynamic changes in lighting in a way that is not directly obvious to the naked eye. Otherwise the lighting might distract people from their work. But it does need to fluctuate enough to promote concentration and heighten alertness," explains Bues.

The team tested the dynamic lighting on ten volunteers who carried out their daily work over the course of four days under the ceiling. Throughout the first day, the lighting remained static.

On the second day, it fluctuated gently, and on the third day the fluctuations were rapid. On the fourth day, the participants could choose which type of lighting they wanted. The researchers report that 80 percent opted for the fast, dynamic lighting.

Bues said that inquiries regarding the ceiling have already come in, mainly for use in conference rooms. The virtual sky currently costs approximately 1,000 Euros per square meter, but this price will come down, he says, adding that the ceiling can be viewed from March 6 -10, 2012 at the CeBIT trade fair in Hannover.

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Source: Fraunhofer Institute