Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SmartLight - An Innovative Way To Use Sunlight For Indoor Illumination

Researcher Anton Harfmann and Jason Heikenfeld from University of Cincinnati, U.S.A., have come out with a new lighting technology called SmartLight to enhance sunlight distribution in building. SmartLight utilizes tiny electrofluidic cells and a series of open-air "ducts" to distribute sunlight into windowless work spaces deep inside office buildings and excess energy can be harnessed, stored and directed to other applications. The technology could be applied to any building – big or small, old or new, residential or commercial.

SmartLight works like this: A narrow grid of electrofluidic cells which is self-powered by embedded photovoltaics is applied near the top of a window. Each tiny cell – only a few millimeters wide – contains fluid with optical properties as good or better than glass. The surface tension of the fluid can be rapidly manipulated into shapes such as lenses or prisms through minimal electrical stimulation – about 10,000 to 100,000 times less power than what's needed to light a traditional incandescent bulb. In this way, sunlight passing through the cell can be controlled.

The grid might direct some light to reflect off the ceiling to provide ambient room lighting. Other light might get focused toward special fixtures for task lighting. Yet another portion of light might be transmitted across the empty, uppermost spaces in a room to an existing or newly installed transom window fitted with its own electrofluidic grid. From there, the process could be repeated to enable sunlight to reach the deepest, most "light-locked" areas of any building. And it's all done without needing to install new wiring, ducts, tubes or cables.

SmartLight also can be controlled wirelessly via a mobile software application. So instead of manually flipping a switch on a wall, a user would indicate their lighting preferences through an app on their mobile device, and SmartLight would regulate the room's brightness accordingly. SmartLight could even use geolocation data from the app to respond when a user enters or leaves a room or when they change seats within the room by manipulating Wi-Fi-enabled light fixtures.

But what happens at night or on cloudy days? That's where SmartLight's energy storage ability comes in. SmartLight can funnel surplus light into a centralized harvesting- and energy-storing hub within the building. The stored energy could then be used to beam electrical lighting back through the building when natural light levels are low.

"We're going to look for some substantial funds to really put a meaningful program together," Heikenfeld says. "We've already done a lot of the seed work. We're at the point where it would be a big, commercially driven type of effort. The next step is the tough part. How do you translate that into commercial products?"

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