Light Tubes: A sustainable design

When people think of sustainable designs they often focus on the outside, concerning themselves with making the structures of buildings sustainable. However, there are many components that can be installed inside a building to increase its sustainability. One fine example is the light tube or light pipe. Light tubes are used for transporting or distributing daylight. As a result they are often called tubular daylighting devices, sun pipes, sun scopes, or daylight pipes. No matter what you call it, the light tube is an excellent way to increase the sustainability of interior designs.

Light tubes take advantage of natural light thereby decreasing the need for artificial light. Natural lighting is an important tool in attaining sustainability. The generation of electricity is one of the largest contributors of pollution in the United States, which produces harmful chemicals such as sulfur dioxide, carbon, and mercury emissions. Production of electric power can also be linked with other environmental issues such as the impact on water quality, increased production wastes, and increased industrial zones. Therefore, reduction in the use of artificial lighting is vital for increasing sustainability.


Light tubes can be used in both the residential and commercial setting effortlessly with many advantages. Light tubes provide exceptional lighting. In fact the light output is incredible, providing as much light as you would expect from a skylight many times its size. It is also cost-effective. Light tubes cost considerably less than other daylighting options, such as windows and skylights, including both product and installation costs. It can also be installed with ease. They require no structural reframing, tunneling, drywalling or painting. Light tubes can also go about anywhere. The compact and flexible design allows them to be installed in just about any room, including rooms without direct roof access and smaller spaces where daylighting would usually not be an option. Light tubes are also “green.” Light tubes allow you to switch off electric lights during the day, which provides savings on energy bills and also as stated before reduces environmental pollution. Light tubes are beneficial to your health. It has been show in several prominent studies that increasing daily exposure to natural light can enhance mental and physical well-being, boost concentration and energy levels. It is apparent that Light tubes are extremely advantageous along with being environmentally friendly.


The Light tube is essentially a tube lined with highly reflective material that leads the light rays through a building starting from an entrance-point located on its roof or on the outer wall. The entrance point usually comprises a dome, which has the function of collecting and reflecting as much sunlight as possible into the tube. Many units also take advantage of directional “collectors,” “reflectors” or even Fresnel lens devices that assist in collecting additional directional light down the tube. Light transmission efficiency is greatest if the tube is short and straight. In longer, angled, or flexible tubes, part of the light intensity is lost. To minimize losses, a high reflectivity of the tube lining is crucial. At the end point, a diffuser spreads the light into the room. To further optimize the use of solar light, a heliostat can be installed which tracks the movement of the sun, thereby directing sunlight into the light tube at all times of the day as far as the surroundings’ limitation allow, possible with additional mirrors or other reflective elements that influence the light path. The heliostat can be set to also capture moonlight at night.


The design of the Light tube makes it a great sustainable design. The Light tube’s ability to transfer daylight into areas that normally would experience none, helps cut down on the use of artificial lighting. The decrease in artificial lighting, in turn, minimizes pollution. Overall, the Light tube is a superior way to include sustainability into interior designs.

Augmented Reality with SixthSense

The basic idea of augmented reality is to superimpose graphics, audio and other sensory enhancements over a real-world environment in real time. Augmented reality blurs the line between what’s real and what’s computer generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell. Different from virtual reality, augmented reality adds to the natural world as it exists, enhancing one’s perception of reality. While many devices like video games and cell phones have been driving the development of augmented reality, other companies have recently started delving into this technology. Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world and devices like SixthSense are making it a reality for many.

hand_phoneSome of the most exciting augmented-reality work is taking place in research labs at universities around the world. At the TED conference, Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry presented their augmented-reality system, which they call SixthSense. The SixthSense device turns any surface into an interface that you can physically interact with. You can watch a video, surf the internet, or make a phone call on virtually any surface where and when you want them. This prototype even lets you take a photograph by simply holding your hand in the air and making a “framing” gesture. The SixthSense prototype is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.

systemThe SixthSense prototype is comprised of a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera. The hardware components are coupled in a pendant-like wearable mobile device. The projector and the camera are connected to the mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user’s hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision bases techniques. The software program processes the video stream data captured by the camera and tracks the locations of the colored markers (visual tracking fiducials) at the tip of the user’s fingers using simple computer-vision techniques. The movements and arrangements of these fiducials are interpreted into gestures that act as interaction instructions for the projected application interfaces. The maximum number of tracked fingers is only constrained by the number of unique fiducials, thus SixthSense also supports multi-touch and multi-user interaction.

sixthsense_watchThe SixthSense prototype implements several applications that demonstrate the usefulness, viability and flexibility of both the system and the augmented reality technology. The map application lets the user navigate a map display on a nearby surface using hand gestures, similar to gestures supported by Multi-Touch based systems, letting the user zoom in, zoom out or pan using intuitive hand movements. The drawing application also lets the user draw on any surface by tracking the fingertip movements of the user’s index finger. SixthSense also recognizes the user’s gestures. SixthSense will capture an image of what the user is looking at when it detects the “framing” gesture. The user can then stop by any surface or wall and flick through the photos he/she has taken. The gesture of drawing a circle on the user’s wrist projects an analog watch. SixthSense also lets the user draw icons or symbols in the air using the movement of the index finger and then recognizes those symbols as interaction instructions. For example, drawing a magnifying glass takes the user to the map and drawing an @ symbol lets the user check his mail.

Augmented reality is truly a fascinating technology and I believe devices like SixthSense are on their way to becoming the computers of the future. Although SixthSense is currently just a prototype, over time, I believe it will become the new “must-have” device.

4D Printing Concept

3D printing is poised to disrupt nearly every industry, with applications ranging from replicating organs to constructing houses; however, MIT is looking even further into the future introducing the concept of 4D printing. Skylar Tibbits, an architect, artist, computer scientist and director of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, recently gave a talk at the TED conference describing what is being called 4D printing. 4D printing involves 3D printing objects that change after they have been printed. 4D printing is basically a self assembly process whereby printed material forms itself into another shape after being subjected to an energy source such as heat, electricity, light, sound, or as he showcased in his demonstration, by submersion in water.


The whole idea started with materials that react in predictable ways to energy sources. This concept has led to the development of a material that changes shape in “programmable” ways when submersed in water. The result is a 3D printable material that when dunked into a tank of water, changes itself into a recognizable shape. A single strand for example, suddenly comes to life and forms the word “MIT” in two dimensions, while another pulls itself into an open ended three dimensional cube. This seemingly magical act comes about by programming different parts of the material to respond as desired. The self-folding structures are first printed out as long strands made of two core materials in combination – a synthetic polymer that can expand to more that twice its volume in water, and another polymer that is rigid in water. By carefully combining the two materials using specific blueprints, the expansion of the water-absorbing substance drives the joints to move, creating a predetermined geometrical transformation. “This is a whole new idea of printing, where you don’t just print static objects; you print things that turn into other things,” explained Skylar Tibbits.


On a large scale, the devices would be useful in building underwater structures or structures in space; anywhere where having people assemble it by hand would be prohibitively expensive, difficult or impossible. Research also shows the potential of programmable materials in the future of manufacturing. This opens up the concept of “environmental manufacturing,” in which companies can take advantage of ambient sources of surrounding energy. However, right now the transformations only happen in one direction. Tibbits said a future step in his research would be to see if they could be reversed. If so, the systems could become self-sustaining in environments with cyclical or seasonal change. For example, instead of using pumps, pipes could expand and contract, in a process resembling peristalsis, to push water. Overall, 4D printing is part of a whole new science that may very well revolutionize the way things are made. 4D printing would be a way to extend the printing window to after the printer has done its work to allow for self-assembly of three-dimensional objects that are limited only by our imaginations.