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  • LEDs Let You Cast Timely Shadows

EuroPhotonics
Dec 2015

“It is a simple ring of light on the wall — if you point your finger into the center, your own shadow becomes the hands of this shy clock — fragile, transient but present like yourself,” Vienna-based design group breadedEscalope said of their recent creation.

The prototype Shadowplay clock, the group’s latest piece of noncommercial work, represents the culmination of a summer devoted to interactive design experiments with LED lights and microcontroller programming. The clock, a 73-cm diameter wood-framed ring of light that hangs on the wall, appears at first to be ambient lighting.

What first appears to be ambient lighting, is really an interactive clock.


What first appears to be ambient lighting, is really an interactive clock. Photos courtesy of breadedEscalope.

“If you touch the wall in the center of the ring, the clock will dim all the lights but three spots which illuminate your index finger and make it cast three shadows which resemble the hands of a clock. So your own shadow tells you time. You tell time,” said Martin Schnabl, a member of breadedEscalope. Schnabl founded the group in 2008 along with Sascha Mikel, and Michael Tatschl, with the overall aim “to find new approaches and strategies for generating socially sustainable objects.”

The Shadowplay clock was first presented to the public during the 2015 Vienna Design Week, which was held from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4. Austria’s largest design festival, an annual event based on the concepts of opening up creative processes and giving scope for experimentation, takes place in a variety of locations around the city.

The clock includes 60 individually addressable LEDs placed in a ring and spotting toward the center. An ultrasonic proximity sensor detects if something is within the ring, such as a human finger, and if it is within a certain distance to the sensor. An actual time clock keeps track of time, an Arduino microcomputer manages the components, and there are buttons to set the time.

The Shadowplay clock is an interactive LED light art installation by design group breadedEscalope.


The Shadowplay clock is an interactive LED light art installation by design group breadedEscalope. It was presented at the 2015 Vienna Design Week. Photos courtesy of breadedEscalope.

If the sensor doesn’t detect anything in a specific range, all 60 LEDs remain lit, Schnabl said. In the moment when there is detection near the center, 57 LEDs are turned off. The remaining three LEDs left on relate to the current hour, minute and second, respectively.

Schnabl said that the Arduino microcomputer manages the time which is read from the actual, real-time clock, and gets the information from the proximity sensor. The Arduino sends data to all of the individual LEDs and handles signals from the buttons to set the time. The real-time clock has a stand-alone battery to keep track of time even when the Shadowplay is disconnected from its 5-V power source.

“We had the feeling that this outcome is a nice contemporary combination of crafts, technology and human interaction,” he said. “It was quite important to us to keep that scope balanced. Therefore, it is also an object that will surprise and reach people emotionally.”

Shadowplay finally proposed a way for the group to bring together the concepts of the linear, chronological absolute time and qualitative time — a time of opportunity and chance, Schnabl said.



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