At last week’s ‘Building Projection Party’ to celebrate over 10 years of the UCL EngD Centre VEIV I was invited to showcase the latest prototype of the ‘Living Light Lab’ project. The interactive low resolution LED display was hooked up with an RFID technology based feedback system to allow visitors of the party to instantly express their opinion through their Oyster cards or access cards.


Living light lab is an interactive light installation that attracts, engages and connects performers through visualizing instant feedback data in urban space. The aim is to provide a stage for encounter and discussion through promoting locational awareness. Three low resolution displays shape a minimalistic light structure following the principle of sixteen digit number displays, which allow the projection of numbers and letters but also abstract environmental data and feed it back into the built environment in the form of a large scale physical light installation.


In total 48 RGB 24V LED light strips (non-addressable) (144 RGB channels) are connected to microcontrollers which are addressable through the DMX protocol. A decoder transfers the DMX signals through USB wire to a laptop. The visualizations are programmed with Processing [6]. The basic idea for the visualizations on the installation mines and abstracts existing environmental data feeds as well as attached sensor kits concerning the local area.

In this research I am addressing the following research questions: How can we represent and visualize situated data in real-time and in a meaningful way? What kind of social interactions and dynamic spatial configurations mediated by this interactive installation take place? And eventually, how may large scale installations and related interactions impact urban space? These questions will be addressed through a series of iterative prototype deployments in urban space.


Pilot study

During the UCL VEIV Building Projection Party we set up the first prototype of the LED display at the main campus [7]. To explore interactivity we connected the light installation with a binary feedback device based on RFID technology (figure 3) which we developed in the past for indoor public spaces [8]. Participants were able to leave their feedback in a playful way through swiping their travel (Oyster) or UCL access cards over the well-known thumbs-up or thumbs-down icons on the card reader. When swiping across the thumbs-up icon the light installation turned the VEIV logo into orange, whilst the thumbs-down icon turned the logo into blue (figure 1).

The installation was running between 8pm and 10pm during the UCL VEIV Building Projection Party. During the first hour the daylight reduced the light distribution whereas towards the end colours of the LEDs provided orange and blue ambient light.


Initial findings

Throughout the event we took images, notes and informally talked to people joining the event. Overall participants enjoyed using their Oyster Cards or UCL access cards to change the color of the low resolution display. The fact that they were actually rating the event was less important than the playfulness of changing the colours. The lawn in front of the installation was the preferred seating area and the ‘I like’ device created a stage for social encounters (figure 4). However, after sunset people moved away from the immediate space around the installation as the LEDs became too bright. We even observed participants sitting on the lawn suddenly standing up to change the colour from blue to orange. They obviously felt more comfortable with the orange light. Based on this initial pilot study we will further explore various spatial formations (ie. flat, tilted or 3 dimensional). Further we are planning to connect the LED screens with a series of input devices such as sensor kits capturing environmental data.

Publication: Behrens, M. (2013). Living Light Lab: Exploring Instant Feedback in Mediated Urban Space. UbiComp ’13 Adjunct, September 08 – 12 2013, Zurich, Switzerland.

More at: http://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/graduate/news/animating_ucl