Bringing Sunlight To Windowless Rooms

University of Cincinnati researchers have designed technology that channels sunlight to dark interior rooms through grids of tiny adjustable cells. The energy can also be stored to power electrical systems.

What's the Latest Development?

University of Cincinnati researchers Jason Heikenfeld and Anton Harfmann have designed a system, SmartLight, that captures sunlight and channels it to make less-well-lit rooms much brighter. It works by manipulating the surface tension of fluid embedded in tiny cells, turning them into lenses or prisms that control sunlight passing through. A grid of cells positioned near the top of a window can provide different kinds of lighting both within that room and in other rooms that also contain grids. In addition, surplus light energy can be directed to a storage area, where it can be tapped for additional electrical power.

What's the Big Idea?

Heikenfeld and Harfmann say SmartLight is ideal for large commercial buildings whose owners want to save on energy costs. Even better, says Heikenfeld, is that it doesn't require installing new or bulky equipment. "You're using space that's entirely available already...It just looks like a piece of glass that all of a sudden switches." It won't even need a typical wall switch; a smartphone app allows users to set their own customized lighting preferences. In the future, the team sees the app using geolocation data to identify a user when they enter or leave a room and adjust the lighting system accordingly. They recently presented a paper on SmartLight at the CasaClima international energy forum in Italy.

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