Technology for lighting design
Lighting control systems engineering
More often than not, the planning and programming of control systems are absolutely integral parts of a lighting design project. Architectural lighting increasingly often involve complex lighting fixtures with technology traditionally only found in stage lighting, as well as demands for interactive control with external input combined with scheduled/automated programming. Sucessful implementation of a lighting design often requires that the control system is planned at an early stage, and that the control systems engineer has a thorough understanding of the design as well as the technology, which includes everything from moving and static lighting fixtures to sensor technologies to computer networking.
I design and program control systems both for my own projects and for other lighting designers. The process involves discussing the design and its intended effects with the designers as early as possible to determine what systems and technologies to use, as well as following up electrical contractors to ensure that control cabinets, signal and network infrastructure and user interfaces are correctly installed. The commissioning and programming is usually a collaborative process where the designers, architects and facility owners have various design requests ranging from the conceptual to the very specific; in addition, there are more mundane, but important considerations such as energy efficiency and light pollution to keep in mind.
Complex lighting projects often call for extermely specialised electronics hardware, beyond what is available off the shelf. Different projects have unique requirements for things such as light output and quality, interfacing, size and shape constraints, et cetera – but a frequently recurring theme is the combination of very specific requirements, very short deadlines, and small order quantities.
A few examples of custom devices I made for various projects – both my own and those of other designers – include:
- 450 custom DMX-controlled RGBW LED pixel boards with direct DMX control and 14-bit dimming, designed for integration in scenography
- Battery-operated, wirelessly controlled LED strip dimmer with battery status feedback over RDM
- LED pixel strip driver with simultaneous input for MIDI (USB and DIN), ArtNet and piezo transducer drum triggers, with web interface for configuration and sensor calibration
- DMX control interface for Kodak Ektapro 35mm slide projectors, implementing lamp dimming and access to specific slides
- Tiny, battery-powered, dimmable light sources for integration in TV props
In addition to rapid prototyping and low-volume production of circuit board assemblies, other in-house capabilities include basic CNC machining, 3D printing and laser cutting for production of mechanical parts.
The combination of sensitive electronics and harsh weather is an interesting mix which is often encountered in lighting design. Temporary and permanent installations in harsh weather conditions pose different types of challenges, which demand high quality equipment and proper installation. Various problems that must be addressed include moisture ingress, condensation, corrosion and galvanic compatibility, UV exposure, mechanical loads from wind or vandalism, as well as interconnects and ease of installation and maintenance.
Some of the outdoor projects I have tackled include:
- Permanent installation with LED strips situated on a river bank, subject to seasonal flooding with complete submersion and mechanical loads. Light sources designed for submersion, with waterproof connections designed to simplify light source replacements
- Outdoor lighting kit for Øyafestivalen with 100 LED pixel tubes, boxes with ArtNet nodes, network switches and power supplies, as well as a weatherproof enclosure with a computer for control and pixelmapping
- Temporary installation for Kartfestivalen with waterproof LED pixel lights mounted on stakes in a river
- Weatherproof microphone module with power supply and balancing signal transformer for a permanent interactive outdoor installation
- Several temporary architectural lighting installations, using static and moving lights and a variety of control gear