Every one of us was bound to have noticed how the illumination in a room affects our perception of the whole space and even of ourselves. Thus, warm yellow lighting makes a room feel cosy, while neutral white lighting, if used correctly, will make a room feel bigger. That, however, is not the limit to the light’s capacities.
Lighting can affect our mood and productivity. Properly chosen light can help us unwind or concentrate on the task at hand. Using this knowledge, lighting designers can create perfect lighting for a particular user. But how can we create such a well-suited environment in a working space with several people – each with their own mood, habits, and circadian rhythms?
A group of ITMO University researchers and students is developing a lighting system that will be capable of creating convenient personalized lighting for multiple working spaces taking into account the working cycle and psychological state of each employee, even if their desks are next to each other. Ideally, the system will help bring down the level of stress and prevent conflicts in an office or a lab, when one person wants to turn on the light and the other just needs a couple of minutes of rest without it. There are lots of research questions that need to be answered to achieve this goal, so all members of the research group contribute to the common project and complete their personal research tasks.
“In the project, we are trying to understand how lighting affects a person’s emotional state,” explains Anastasia Laushkina, author of the project, a Master’s student at ITMO’s Lighting Design international program. “Once we collect the data, our system will be able to adapt to the needs of every user. Each individual working space has a lamp above it that is controlled separately, creating comfortable conditions for every person without disturbing the others.”
According to Natalia Bystryantseva, associate professor at the Institute of Design & Urban Studies and head of the International Research Laboratory “Lighting Design for an Urban Environment,” currently, there is a common trend in lighting – human-oriented design with a particular focus on the needs of various social groups. For instance, supporting circadian rhythms in the elderly, or stimulating concentration and productivity in office workers and students.
“One of the important areas for the international Master’s program Lighting Design are interdisciplinary research projects. We study the dynamics and type of people’s preferences in lighting, as well as their multidimensionality to design intelligent, dynamic, interactive, and adaptive lighting systems that represent the new approach to light environments both in interior and urban design,” comments Natalia Bystryansteva.
The project is now at the stage of data collection. A special laboratory was set up in room 408 at ITMO’s building on Birzhevaya 16. The first series of experiments will be held there in March and April. Volunteers will come to the room to work, and researchers will change lighting conditions and notice the way these changes affect the volunteers’ productivity and mood.
“Our laboratory is equipped with a system of audio and video surveillance which will collect information about the users’ emotional state. Based on this data, we will regulate the illumination in the room. That is why our main tools in the system are adaptive lamps with adjustable color temperature and light output. They were kindly provided to us by the PromLed company for free,” says Anastasia Laushkina.
A system of cameras and microphones will detect changes in the users’ behavior: the way they talk and move depending on the lighting and workflow. Researchers will also analyze how volunteers interact with their computers or how fast they move their mouses. From time to time, stress factors will be introduced, such as loud noises, tasks with a limited timeframe, puzzles, and so on. The results acquired in these conditions will be compared to those of a control group that experienced the same stress factors but under standard lighting conditions.
“There is also a survey each participant will have to fill in before the experiment,” adds Olga Gofman, a PhD in Psychology and a soft skills lecturer at the Institute of International Development and Partnership. “We have to take into account each participant’s personal traits: their cognitive style, introversion/extraversion, the way they can control their impulses, etc. Every morning, we will ask our participants about their sleep the night before, their mood, and physical state. We will also measure their emotional state and productivity level, as well as their perception of lighting in the room at various points during the day.”
In order to get accurate data, researchers will need at least 30 volunteers in each group. That’s why the organizers invite everyone to take part in the experiment.
The collected data will be processed by a neural network. As a result, a system will be created that will monitor the user’s state and adjust the color temperature and level of lighting in a multiuser space depending on people’s behavior and emotional state.
“One of our hypotheses is that light can directly affect our productivity,” continues Olga Gofman. “It is important to find out the kinds of light suitable for routine tasks, creativity, or data analysis. It will definitely have to be a light with different levels of luminance and color temperature.”
At the same time, the system will take into account the circadian rhythms adjusting the lighting depending on what time of day it is. Generally, our workflow goes through several stages: first, we get into our working mode – and thus the lighting has to help us concentrate and start our day. Then comes the maximum productivity stage, when the illumination needs to create a comfortable environment and provide the necessary lighting conditions. This stage lasts two to three hours – and it is best to complete your most complicated tasks during this time.
“After that, out productivity sinks until we take a break,” expounds Ekaterina Zemlyanova, co-author of the project and a Master’s student at ITMO’s Lighting Design international program. “Usually, it is a lunch break which helps us restore our energy and set the mood to continue working. After the break, the lighting will have to help the person transition back from relaxed to concentrated state. Then comes another productivity boost, though a lower one. This stage lasts one to two hours. Then the productivity will keep going down as we start to go out of the working mood at the end of the day – and here lighting can help us transition from active work to evening relaxation.”
According to Tatiana Bragina, another co-author of the project and a Master’s student at the international program Lighting Design, using dynamic artificial lighting we can imitate natural changes of color temperatures – because prolonged stay under the constantly bright light can have its consequences, such as overexertion and insomnia.
“Obviously, the best lighting conditions are created by natural light, but we spend most of our time working and studying inside. We have to consider the influence it has on our biological rhythms – and, consequently, on the quality of our work. We will continue studying adaptive lighting systems in the future – for instance, in the fall, we will look at the way lighting affects our circadian rhythms,” comments Tatiana Bragina.
Svetlana Roslyakova, head and co-author of the project, an expert at ITMO’s Institute of Design and Urban Studies, notes that the system created in the experiment will have the potential to be scaled up:
“We use lamps with LEDs of standard color temperatures produced by the majority of manufacturers. Of course, LED lattices are only one component of lamps, but adaptive lighting technologies will be scalable after our research is complete. In the near future, adaptive lighting in multiuser spaces will become available to employees of various companies.”
Svetlana Roslyakova is sure that such systems will not only help raise productivity, but also, first of all, will preserve the workers’ physical and mental health. The authors of the project hold this as the true practical value of their project.
“We are only at the beginning,” states Oleg Basov, supervisor of the project and head of the Cognitive Non-Verbality Laboratory at ITMO’s National Center for Cognitive Technologies. “We have already exceeded the work of Master’s and PhD students and the deeper we get into the project, the more prospects we see. That’s why we invite all those interested in the project to join us. We would be happy to welcome specialists in machine learning, lighting design, the Internet of Things, auditory and visual signal processing, and everyone wishing to participate in our experiments.”