Six Prototypes

Six Prototypes

It’s been a busy few days building and testing a fresh batch of six, new Light Log prototypes. They are almost all ready to ship out to their new homes, needing only some changes to the 3D printed enclosure (these are a little smaller than the last version), an update to their firmware (improved UI and timing accuracy), and calibration against known light lux sources.

Five will be off to Nigel A. Beacham, whom I met and chatted with at last year’s Northern Lights Conference. He’s a Research Fellow at Aberdeen University setting up a pilot study investigating the effect of light during informal learning periods. The sixth prototype will be winging its way to Talia Radford, a social product designer based in Vienna. She heard my Light Log presentation at the Wearable Futures conference back in December and is looking to include the electronics in her latest wearable project for the Milan Design Week in April.

The electronics are now down to 28mm x 28mm x 14.5mm in size (with a couple of millimetres added once you include the thickness of the 3D printed enclosure), and weigh 11g (14g with the battery). Each device uses two circuit boards stacked one above the other. One holds the micro-controller, memory, sensors for red, green, blue and clear (for low light conditions), with a white LED and tactile button providing a simple user interface for the front face. The second board holds the battery and serial communication components for downloading logged light data to your computer.

If you’d like to see the circuit schematics, component part-list, or perfboard layout (a type of circuit board designed for prototyping circuits), you can find them on the Light Log GitHub repository, along with other documentation. With the small size of these devices it does now need a little patience to build, perhaps an afternoon’s work, with the trickiest part soldering in the link wires.

I’m looking forward to seeing these prototypes fly from the nest later this week!

Six Prototypes

Visualising Light Data

One of the goals of Lightlog is to help people engage with and reflect on light data they collect over time. Due to its size and power constraints, the physical Lightlog device has a minimal user interface (UI), just enough to display the daily light goal reached, and show if the current illumination is bright enough to be effective towards the daily goal (2,500 lux or above). Lightlog collects much more data than it can display alone, by synchronising to a device with a screen and more computing power, allows a rich, engaging, detailed views of your daily light profile, and the opportunity for additional analysis over the set of collected data.

The primary visualisation is designed around the full colour spectrum composing visible light. It’s an approximation of a full light spectrum as Lightlog records single sample points in the red (~614nm), green (~525nm), and blue (~468nm) frequencies; with a fourth sample unfiltered, capturing as much of the full spectrum energy as possible for lux calculation (an interesting future project could be to use many more sensors across the spectrum frequency to generate a high resolution spectrum with chemical absorption lines). For use with Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder, the three red, green, blue sensors provide useful information about the frequency of light exposure as some studies have shown shorter wavelength, blue light, is more effective, vs. longer wavelength red light.

Below shows an example image taken from real data displaying several days from November. Notice the relatively long nights and short Scottish days at this time of year.

Example Lightlog data for Nov 28-30

Below is a close-up view of November 30th; note the strong direct sunlight between 12:30 and 13:30, this would have been more than enough for the recommended daily amount of bright light.

Example Lightlog data for Nov 30

Prototyping 3D Printed Cases

Early case design

3D printers are a wonderful tool for rapid prototyping designs. They do need a little patience at first, experimenting to find the right printing temperature ranges and speeds, but once that small hurdle is passed the majority of prints work first time, making it a really fast way to turn an idea into a physical object.

The process starts with mocking-up an initial design idea, to scale, in a 3D application (I can recommend Blender, 123D Design, SketchUp). Exporting the file in STL format. An application called a slicer (e.g. Cura) then takes the 3D shape and cuts it into thin horizontal 2D sections, all ready for the printer to lay down, layer by layer. Once you’ve got the hang of the tool chain, you can go from making a design change to a fresh new finished print in a little over half an hour (the current prototype design takes about 34min to print).

For the last few weeks Light Log enclosures have gone through over 80 such design cycles, two different hardware form-factors, with over 40 cases printed, physically tested and warn, in 5 different material finishes using 11 different colours!

Smaller hardware case design

Case Studies in Design Informatics

Design sketches

Professor Jon Oberlander, of the School of Informatics at Edinburgh University, kindly invited me to present Light Log as a case study to his design informatics group. The presentation, Light Log Case Studies in Design Informatics, is more detailed in nature, covering some of the background research material, prototype hardware, software, user interface, and design goals to date.