[intangible wk 1] Observing Interactions

I teamed up with Dalit for the redesign challenge. We both noticed how the lights on the 4th floor of 370 Jay (our ITP floor) seem to have mysterious behaviors, and decided to investigate.

Dalit did some research on how a general switch-light work

When the user toggles the level to the ON position, the gate snaps closed, completes the circuit, and allows power to flow through the switch and onward to the light fixture. When you flip the toggle lever to the OFF position, the gateway opens up, interrupting the flow of power to the light fixture. Apart from the switches that control the lights on the floor, the user’s actions also control their ON/OFF status

Since we noticed how the lights are movement-triggered, we listed some potential sensors there could be, like PIRs sensor, distance sensors


I spent some time on the floor during late night to observe the lights, which is when the lights seem to go off from time to time when there’s little movement. The most apparent interaction opportunity is at the entrance; a sensor at the door seem to control a large area of ceiling lights nearby. When those lights go off, I had to walk all the way towards the entrance to trigger them on again.

Here are videos of me walking in, and walking out.

It’s safe to conclude that there’re motion sensors (unclear which kind) at work determining motion in different zones to trigger the lights on, which get into use when it passes probably predefined working hours. There are also light panels on the wall, and apparently an app that can control the lights via bluetooth??

After some research and a meeting with Tom, we figured out some general facts about the lighting system:

The 370 Jay Street building lights are run on a Lutron system with Lumenetix fixtures. Lutron is designed for a lot of industrial lights, but the app (Arraya 2.0 by Lumenetix) is more useful in a non-commercial, household setting. When we use the bluetooth app we kind of mess up the bigger system. Light panels on the wall ensures local control; some can override the bluetooth signals, others can’t (some of these panels have weaker RF signals installed in the same place with the motion sensor, allowing flexibility).

According to the ITP floor plan, the red dots are light panel, each controlling a section of the floor. Many panels are placed together, far away from the area they control. There are less motion sensors, but in general control the same, slightly larger areas.

Assumption of the motion sensor placements are likely:

When a person walks into a space, it senses movements around the entrance area, and lights up the path where they’re likely going (Jezzy mentioned how when she was on the floor alone she liked how the lights light up her way as she walks past).

However, this neglects the needs for more personalized uses of the space, as well as when people just want to sit there and not move around. Dave Currie recalled when he wanted to sit in the dark but people walking from the entrance would keep triggering lights in his area — same when someone needed the lights to be on but it kept going off because there were no movements in a neighboring area.

The system also assumed a lot of people would be in the space together, that usually when the lights need to be on there will be enough people on the floor moving around to keep it lit, which is a premise challenged by current circumstances. Furthermore, There is a general lack of transparency / understanding of where the sensors and controls are, and which area is being controlled by what.

Based on above information, we came into some conclusions.

Framework of Current System

The lights on the floor is a system that works as background interactions – interactions that evade the user’s attention, and in fact, may elude notice. However, it reacts to the human action (when the user go inside the room the light turn up and when nobody is there it turn off) so its proactive

image by Dalit

The sensors, based on images Tom sent (THANKS TOM), are likely large-range (3 – 5m) movement sensors.

FL-LS/MS 360 II Light & Motion Sensor Flushmount 5m


What can we improve

The main problem with the lights on the floor is that they are suitable for general needs rather than individual needs. Because human actions control the general lights you can’t do any changes for your own lighting needs. Other people actions affect your lighting situations.

Potential Concept: Individual lights for each seat, so that only the movement of the student determine the lights in their area

We also face some potential challenges. “Groupings of the space” changes constantly on a floor like ITP, so small groups are hard to define and design for. There are also requirements regarding maintaining safety paths — some lights along fire path can’t be turned off due to safety concerns.

Since it’s unlikely to play around the actual Lutron system, we have potential access to other systems on the floor, like Hue for the LED strips and DMX stage lights.

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