Ambient data lighting displays

How is the combination of lighting and data being used in new ways?

Light is a very powerful means of transmitting information. The fastest fibre-optic cables science has developed can handle more than 100 terabits of data per second (at least in the lab). But for humans, interpreting even small amounts of data can be overwhelming. Luckily, we can build devices that use light to represent the data in a simpler, more intuitive form -- more like a traffic light than a flashing bundle of fibre.


Data-driven lighting can provide feedback and help people change their behavior at just the right time. It’s subtle -- less insistent than a noisy alarm -- but easy to take in at a glance. In fact, one of the first networked devices to hit the consumer market (way back in 2002!) was the Ambient Orb, which glows in a spectrum of colors to represent things like weather forecasts or stock market fluctuations.


Since then we’ve seen a number of "smart" lightbulbs hit the market, which allow users to remotely control brightness and the bulbs color. With the rise of consumer-friendly data brokering services it’s becoming easy to program your lights to respond to just about any data you like.

The company behind the original Ambient Orb quickly adapted the same technology for use with utility customers in devices that not only glow to reflect hourly fluctuations in the price of energy, but also display details about the home’s energy usage. Utilities that provide the devices to customers have seen reductions in usage when prices were high and lower peak demand.


In New York City, the DontFlushMe project (from the maker of open-source Hue competitor Visualight) proposes a light-based system to let residents know not to flush their toilets while the storm drains are overflowing. That could reduce discharges of raw sewage into the harbor.

Additional Examples


goodnightlamp ambient-umbrella bluefit-bottle
The Good Night Lamp: "A family of internet connected lamps. When you turn the Big Lamp on, the Little Lamps turn on too! Use it to keep in touch with your family when you live abroad." Ambient Umbrella: "When the weather forecast shows rain, the umbrella will glow to let you know." Bluefit Bottle: "If you start to fall behind with your hydration, BlueFit has customizable sounds and alert lights that sync with your phone's notification system to keep you on track.'


mimmi2 amphibious-architecture data-chandelier
MIMMI: An inflatable sculpture installed in the plaza of the Minneapolis Convention Center that captures and displays information from the activity levels in the surrounding area as well as aggregating the general sentiment of the cities residents using real-time Twitter data. Amphibious Architecture: "The sensors monitor water quality, the fish presence, and human interest in the river’s ecosystem, while the lights respond to the sensors, creating feedback loops between humans, fish in their shared environment." CSIS Data Chandelier: "This map becomes a low-res display for illustrating global data such as GDP growth rate, renewable water resources, and energy consumption."


ring-u bond aicasting-vest
Ring-u: "Give your significant other, family, or best friend a remote hug no matter how far you are from each other.' BOND: "A tiny touch module. If you touch it for 1 second, your friend will get a 1 second tickle. Tickles can be up to 5 seconds long and any colour of the rainbow – the colour just depends on how long you touch it for." AirCasting Luminescent Apparel: "AirCasting is a platform for recording, mapping, and sharing health and environmental data. AirCasting Luminescence was developed to communicate sensor measurements and to spark interaction between AirCasters and people located in their immediate vicinity."

Products and Services


blink1 l8-smartlight lifx-smartbulb
blink(1): "A super status light: it packs three dimensions of information (color, brightness and pattern) into a single tiny package that fits into any USB port on nearly every device." L8: The Soundless Speakers... Its built-in proximity, sound, luminosity, temperature sensors and acceleromenter hold you informed about anything in your surroundings Smart Light Bulbs


iftt-channels temboo iot-cloud
IFTTT: "Put the internet to work for you - Lets you create connections between the 82 Channels" Temboo: "Containing methods for 100+ APIs, databases, and code utilities, the Library and the Temboo platform are accessible via the Temboo SDK in seven programming languages, the Temboo REST API, and the Arduino Yún." Internet of Things Cloud Providers

Internet of Things Hardware

Though the technology is new, there’s something atavistic about the concept of smart lights -- a sort of futuristic counterpart to ancient signal fires.

What will our lights tell us tomorrow?

Related: whatthef&*^ismywearablestrategy