Mindful Photons: Context-Aware Lighting

Nan Zhao


Light enables our visual perception. It is the most common medium for displaying digital information. Light regulates our circadian rhythms, affects productivity and social interaction, and makes people feel safe. Yet despite the significance of light in structuring human relationships with their environments on all these levels, we communicate very little with our artificial lighting systems. Occupancy, ambient illuminance, intensity, and color preferences are the only input signals currently provided to these systems. With advanced sensing technology, we can establish better communication with our devices. This effort is often described as context-awareness. Context has typically been divided into properties such as location, identity, affective state, and activity. Using wearable and infrastructure sensors, we are interested in detecting these properties and using them to control lighting. The Mindful Photons Project aims to close the loop and allow our light sources to "see" us.

The first question that comes to mind when thinking about context-aware lighting is how to determine the relevant activities and contexts. Do we need different lighting for reading a magazine and reading a book, or maybe just different lighting for reading versus talking on the phone? How do we identify the relevant situations, and what are the preferred lighting settings? In this paper we present three steps we took to answer these questions and demonstrate them via an adaptive five channel solid-state lighting system with continuous contextual control. We implemented a multidimensional user interface for manual control as well as an autonomous solution using wearable sensors. We enable a simple set of sensors to manipulate complicated lighting scenarios by indirectly simplifying and reducing the complexity of the sensor-lighting control space using human-derived criteria. In a preliminary user study, we estimated significant energy savings of up to 52% and showed multiple future research directions, including behavioral feedback.


A Multidimensional Continuous Contextual Lighting Control System Using Google Glass by Nan Zhao et al. presented at BuildSys’15, Seoul, South Korea, Best Presentation Award

Principle Investigator: Joseph Paradiso

Research Group: Responsive Environments group at the MIT Media Lab

Researcher: Nan Zhao, Matt Aldrich

Collaborator, Sponsor: Susanne Seitinger Philips Lighting, Christoph Reinhart, Google Glass Project

Project at a glance

Past Member
Person People
Nan Zhao
Former Research Affiliate
Person People
Joseph A. Paradiso
Alexander W Dreyfoos (1954) Professor; Associate Academic Head, Program in Media Arts and Sciences