A hardware prototype for demonstrating the commercial viability of replacing drop ceiling lighting with an LED array. 

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Drop ceiling lighting is both ubiquitous and unsightly. With high rise buildings and public spaces regularly being renovated for modern use, companies are seeking modern lighting solutions that can work with existing infrastructure. 

LED lighting is quickly becoming a more affordable, more energy efficient alternative to fluorescent lighting. We intend to demonstrate that an LED array has the flexibility to provide a much wider selection of lighting scenarios, including more natural, humanistic lighting and special case lighting for emergencies. Companies such as Philips are developing OLED technology that can make a light as thin as a sheet of paper that can bend - opening up a whole new world of potential smart lighting opportunities. Our prototype is intended to be a first step towards implementing this new technology. 

2.5 Weeks

Andre Salyer: ­
Lead Designer / Co-­creator

Lyle Klyne:­
Lead Developer / Co­-creator

1st Place - Gizmos Competition
2016 UW Maker Submit

Real World Applications

  • Large office environments

  • Large public, spaces such as airports

  • Warehouses

  • Department stores

  • Retail


The Prototype

Watch the video to see the prototype in action. 


Building the Prototype

We created a grid of 45 individually addressable LEDs divided into walled boxes (to prevent light bleed). Using a piece of Arduino hardware called Fade Candy, video is fed to the LED array, allowing different lighting scenarios. 



  • Built a model in Rhino.

  • Laser cut sheets of acrylic.

  • Solder LED strips into a single an array

  • Attached the array the the model.

  • Connected the array to our software using a Fadecandy breakout board and Processing

  • Created videos for controlling individual LEDs  in After Effects.

  • Once we were confident in the lighting scenarios, we continued to improve the fidelity of the model with 3D printed furniture

  • The model was coated with paint for fit and finish.


Lighting scenarios

  • Day Dream: Blue sky with slow moving cloudsOrganic light variation to an indoor static environment

  • Work Lighting: Humanistic lighting that mixes blue and yellow light to achieve a more natural "white"

  • Flux Light: Lighting changes very slowly over time, starting with white and removing the blue light frequency in order to aid the bodies natural circadian rhythm.

  • Emergency: Special case scenario, where exits and safe areas are illuminated with a pulsing red light.

  • Sun through leaves: Organic light that mimics light filtering through leaves.

  • Storm: Experiential - potential entertainment application

  • Sunset: A lighting effect that mimics a slow sunset. Radiation through brilliant yellows and red, and ultimately dimming al the way to black.

  • Fireworks: Experiential - potential entertainment application

  • Happy Hour A lighting scenario that acts as a notification that it is time to stop working and move out onto the balcony for happy hour. A cascading animation dims the lights in the working area while simultaneously illuminating the balcony. Exits and entrances stay illuminated in the indoor space.

  • Party On: Garth. (dance lighting)

  • Staging: An animation to demonstrate the ability to light up any of the 6 key areas.

Concept Development

The entire project was 2.5 weeks from beginning to end. Most of our concept development consisted of few rough drawings, created in one afternoon on the first day of the project.

It was important that our methods be both fast and creative. We utilized mapping methods such as 2x2's to brainstorm. Here we have identified fluorescent ceiling boxes as an outlier, that is widely adopted, and has a large physical footprint.

I very much wanted this to be an accurate scale model, however we had the limitation or working with LED stripes (where each light is 33mm apart) so the entire model was reverse engineered so 33mm = 4 feet, making this model approximately a 1:75 scale model. Every detail down to the 3D printed furniture is to scale.


Photo Documentation


The Design is in the details. From sketch, to assembly every detail was considered. Everything was built to scale, which had a cascading effect, making every design decision easier. When laser cutting the sheets of acrylic, the thickness of the sheet was accounted for, producing a model with flush corners. The interior lighting, doubles as an exterior light display. The roof was designed with an organic grid of cut-outs creating a subtle light display visible to surrounding buildings or planes passing overhead.

Final Thoughts


This project was mostly about building a functioning, high fidelity physical prototype. To this day it is still one of my favorite projects, because myself and my creative partner Lyle did not get bogged down with process. We knew we had a good idea and we built it. We worried less about integrating every conceivable step of user testing, and instead relied on our vision and intuition. 

That said, I would have loved to spend more time on this project and build it into a more robust prototype. Here are some additional steps that I imagine taking for the next stage.

  1. Full scale model in a warehouse or commercial space.

  2. GUI for that everyday people can use to create custom lighting array animations and share them.

  3. User testing with architects, fabricators and business owners.

  4. Hardware prototype for a wall mounted, and / or application for controlling the array in real time.


Beauty Shots