Wall Sconces with Hidden Weather Display and Tangible User Interface
Wall Sconces with Hidden Weather Display and Tangible User Interface
Videos of project in action below!!!

Disclaimer: This is an abbreviated description of the project since I did not have time to do a full step-by-step instructable in time for a contest. However, I will gladly make a step-by-step 'ible if there is enough interest. If you like it, please take a moment to vote for this project in the Design Competition!

Several years ago I purchased three metal wall sconces from CB2. They had a really nice modular and modern look and tile really well with each other. However, it was always kind of a pain to light and blow out the total of 15 candles they can hold since they are fairly high up on the wall and have delicate glass cylinders that cover each votive. My idea was originally to add LED's that would flicker like real candle flames so they could be turned on and off easily but still have the warm lighting of real fire.

During my first semester in the Design and Technology department of Parsons, The New School for Design, I decided to take the project further than just flickering LEDs and play with the ideas of ubiquitous computing and tangible user interfaces. I figured that since I was going to be putting LEDs in the sconces I could add all sorts of other things to affect how the lights display. I was strongly motivated by the field of ubiquitous computing (UC), or the movement to add technology to the world around us to make it better suit us and our needs. However, I feel one of the problems with UC is that its easy to feel like you're drowning in a sea of high tech devices. So, for this project I wanted the technology to blend into the original purpose of the sconces, decorating a living space to make it feel warmer and more aesthetically pleasing. I decided I wanted to give the user access to information that would be useful on a regular basis and quick to digest. The device could have been configured (with the right skills and hardware) to display any type of data, like Facebook notifications, unread tweets or emails, etc. But rather than mixing different types of data into the device, for the sake of a simplified, cohesive user experience I decided to display different aspects of the weather. Now, after waking up, the user can grab the cube, turn it on its side and see what the weather will be for the day with a pleasant light show rather than a weather website or mobile app. To light the piece, I used a digitally addressable LED strip cut into segments and places in each of the votives to achieve the desired effect and laser cut small flame shapes made from frosted acrylic to help disperse the light a bit more.

I also am a big fan of tangible user interfaces and wanted to have a physical object that people could manipulate to control the lights. So, for the controller I made a small hand held cube out of laser cut acrylic with a gyroscope, accelerometer, li-poly battery and XBee radio to communicate with the lights in the sconces. The cube controls the lights based on which side is facing up and gestures performed by the user to select what that lights will display and how some aspects are displayed. I tried to make the cube fun and pleasant to use so I tried making the gestures fun and intuitive and added a small vibration motor to incorporate some haptic feedback whenever a gesture is recognized.

The cube has 6 sides (duh) and will recognize the following gestures:

Power Icon
The cube is normally off to save power and will not recognize any commands or orientation. By having the power icon facing up and shaking the cube, the cube is now awake, will pulse the inner light that shines through the icons, and will recognize which side is facing up to allow other modes to be accessed. By spinning the cube while its on and the power side is up, a fun rainbow display is turned on and off.

Flame Icon
When the cube is on and the flame side is facing up, the lights in the sconces will glow and flicker like real candle flames (a little difficult to see in the video). By rotating the cube clockwise, the number of candles lit are incremented and likewise, rotating it counter clockwise decreases the number of lights lit.

High Temperature Icon
Having this side face up while the cube is on will display the high temperature of the day in red light. The lights will display the first digit of the temperature on the left side by lighting up the number of lights equivalent to that digit. The lights then pause then display the second digit of the temperature on the right side. For example, if the temp. is 47 degrees (like in the video), the lights will show 4 lights on the left, pause, then display 7 lights on the right.

Low Temperature Icon
Similar to the low temp side, this side will show the low temperature of the day in a cool cyan hue.

Precipitation (snow/rain) Icon
This will display the percent chance of precipitation similar to how the other temperatures are displayed in blue. Its a little difficult to tell the difference between the cyan and blue in the video but easier in person.

Travel (plane around the world) Icon
For a bit of whimsy, I decided to make the bottom of the cube display the temperature of some fantasy destination set by the user in green light. In this case it's set to Honolulu, Hawaii, hopefully making it easier to bare the cold winter with hopes of a future vacation.


Please forgive the poor quality of the videos, I will be working on a higher quality presentation of this project in the future.

Video close-up of Cube

Video of lights and cube in action:

Next Steps
Unfortunately I didnt have time to add an internet connection to the device (my next step), so at the moment the weather data that is displayed is mocked up and hard coded. I will be working on this next but didnt want to miss the deadline for the Instructables Design Competition! I also would like to make a charging dock for the cube so that it will stay charged and ready at all times. Some extra work will be done on the signal processing of the accelerometer and gyroscope to make the gestures even smoother.

Hope you like it and please take a second to vote for this project in the Instructables Design Challenge!
 
 

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