EE 185: Interactive Light Sculpture Project


Autumn Quarter, 2019
MW 10:00-11:20, Packard Room 001

Instructor: Charles Gadeken
  • Office hours: Monday afternoons
  • Instructor: Mark Horowitz
  • Office hours: TBD
  • Instructor: Philip Levis
  • Office hours: W 2-3, Gates 409
  • TA: Matthew Trost
  • Office hours: TBD

  • ee185-aut1920-staff@lists.stanford.edu

    Course materials

    If you would like to be involved in the light sculpture project without enrolling in EE185, please join the project mailing list. The class focuses on several key parts of the art; there are many other ways to contribute and help besides the course. There are weekly workshops on Mondays, which are open to the broader Stanford community. If you would like to help or contribute, please attend one of these workshops. Their time and location will be announced on list.


    This year the Stanford Electrical Engineering Department celebrates its 125th anniversary. As part of celebration, we will be designing, engineering and installing an interactive light sculpture in the 3-story glass stairwell of the Packard building. The sculpture will remain in Packard for 3-5 years, allowing refinement, exploration of new engineering ideas, and new interactions.

    Students taking EE185 will, in collaboration with the course instructors, design, construct, help install, and program the piece. The course has three instructors: Professor Levis, Professor Horowitz, and Charles Gadeken, a local fire and light sculpture artist whose pieces have been installed in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Calabasas, and Robina (Australia).

    Each quarter will focus on a different stage of the project:

    • Autumn: design and prototyping
    • Winter: construction and refinement
    • Spring: installation, control, and software

    Students are welcome to take the course for any one, two, or all three quarters. The course will rely on existing skills as well as teach new ones, applying them to a beautiful real-world project that will be on display at Stanford for several years. Students taking the course should feel confident in one of the following, and be interested in learning about one or two more:

    • Electronics and electrical system design
    • Mechanical design and materials
    • Artistic design
    • Software and programming

    Furthermore, CS106A or equivalent programming experience is required. The course will involve some Python programming and a little bit of C programming.

    The fall quarter will focus on the engineering constraints that will influence Mr. Gadeken's design as well as an artistic exploration of different materials and approaches. Course material includes:

    • Materials, including aluminum, steel, additive manufacturing, and glass
    • Motor control and torque
    • LEDs and their timing
    • Power efficiency and distribution
    • Fire and evacuation safety and material constraints
    • Designing for maintainability and evolution
    • Software abstractions for physical objects
    • Sensors and sensor feedback
    • Part selection, hardware/software tradeoffs
    • 3D printing and mechanical design

    Course enrollment in the Autumn is limited to 40 students. If enrollment reaches this cap the instructors will distributed a survey on the first day to select who may take the course. The principal goal of the survey is to select a diverse group that has a mix of relevant skills and backgrounds.