“Light is a powerful substance. We have a primal connection to it. But, for something so powerful, situations for its felt presence are fragile… I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space.”
— James Turrell
A few weeks ago, I came across an Android app on the Google Play Store called “Relax Melodies” which is a collection of ambient sounds from different scenarios ranging from rain, crackling of a campfire, heartbeats, gurgling of a brook and many other samples of sound. A user can select any of these sounds individually or choose his own combination of sounds and listen to it while going to sleep. It has proved to be a challenge for me to sleep on time over the past few months and hence I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised by how efficient this app was in putting me to sleep in an average time of 15-20 minutes. It really helped me change my perspective on the perception of sound and how deeply its affects us at a physiological and emotional level. This proved to be my motivation for designing an ambient lamp for our class and we began exploring this idea of using the senses to calm a person down by stimulating the senses. We came across products on the market which consisted of oil diffusers, ambient lights and other applications which played back these ambient sounds. After this initial exploration, the decision to pursue the concept of stimulating the senses to have a relaxing effect on a person was unanimous among the group.
Our brainstorming process consisted of 2 parts. The first part required us to sketch out individual ideas and make at least 3 representations of how we individually imagined such an artifact to be. It was decided that we will not consider feasibility at this point of time and let our imagination run wild in whatever direction we want to go. After each of us had sketched out our takes on the concept, we proceeded towards the second part of brainstorming which consisted of sharing our sketched with each other as a group and bouncing ideas off each other and discuss the pros and cons of each design. This helped us to mix and mash ideas together and that is how we conceived the idea of an ambient night lamp which will help a person go to sleep and wake up in the morning, one sense at a time. We decided to focus on vision and audition for the artifact as it seemed the most feasible thing to execute in the amount of time we had to complete the project.
The Ambilamp consists of 3 different sections which are laser cut sections of wood and acrylic. The shape represents an elongated cuboid which can be compared to 3 cubes stacked on top of each other. The bottom part houses the controls, electronic components, and the speaker. The front face of this section has one momentary push button, a potentiometer and an LCD screen which displays the time in an analog format. The middle part is a cube made up of frosted acrylic with LED lights in the center. Frosting the acrylic helps in diffusing the light allowing us to scatter it in all directions. We can manipulate the color of the light to anything that we want it to be. Ideally, a person would be able to control this using his phone. The third and topmost part of our design is a wooden box which is laser cut on 5 sides with geometric shapes. This cube also has LED lights in the center which are controlled separately from the acrylic cube. The purpose of this part is to project geometric patterns on the wall surrounding the lamp thus adding to the experience of ambient lightscapes. These LED lights are coiled around a cylindrical rod which help us to control the motion of projected light by carefully manipulating the order of how they light up.
A person can set the amount of time he plans to sleep using the knob on the frontal face of the bottom-most section and then press the button to activate the night lamp. This will start the preprogrammed order of events which consists of playing ambient sound of a trickling waterfall and the lamp lights up creating projections on the wall. The sounds continue to play as the light continues to dim as time passes. In about half an hour, all the lights and sounds are turned off. Vice versa, when the time is up, the sounds start playing again and the lights turn on growing brighter as time passes until they are at full brightness hence helping the person wake up.
I was responsible for putting the electronics together and programming it to do the above operations. This consisted of wiring up and programming 2 Arduinos. One of it controls the LCD display, alarm clock functions and the MP3 player module. The MP3 player module houses a microSD card reader where the audio files are stored. The second Arduino controls the lights in the top 2 sections of the Ambilamp. The two Arduinos communicate with each other using a serial interface.