EE 185/285: Interactive Light Sculpture Project

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

Instructor: Charles Gadeken
  • Office hours: Monday afternoons, Packard 001
  • Instructor: Mark Horowitz
  • Office hours: TBD
  • Instructor: Philip Levis
  • Office hours: TBD, Gates 409
  • TA: Matthew Trost
  • Office hours: TBD


    Course materials
    Project Slack

    If you would like to be involved in the light sculpture project without enrolling in EE185 or EE285, 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 1-4PM in Packard 001 (Wednesdays when Monday is a holiday). Workshops are open to the broader Stanford community. If you would like to help or contribute, please attend one of these workshops.

    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/EE285 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). EE185 is intended for undergraduates. EE285 is for graduate students and requires a higher degree of technical sophistication in its assignments.

    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

    Because EE185 is intended to be accessible to undergraduates, it does not assume a graduate-level background and is a 100-level course. EE285 assumes a graduate-level background, and the work expected from students enrolling in EE285 is correspondingly more technically challenging. Students may not register for both courses simultaneously.

    The winter quarter focuses on the engineering details of the piece, designing its elements for robustness, safety, simplicity, and scale. The piece will consist of 50-100 individually articulated shapes, with dichroic elements for colored shadows and reflections as well as LEDs for illumination at night. The fall quarter concluded with a basic design for the shape and its motion. The winter quarter will refine and complete this design, manufacturing 50-100 of them for installation in the spring.

    The winter quarter course will be structured around small team projects to solve particular engineering problems and issues in the design. Examples of projects in the first few weeks include:

    • Finalizing mechanism for transfering torque from motors in body to move wings
    • Finalizing wing material and dichroic film attachment process to avoid gassing/bubbles in long term
    • Deciding LED placement and attachment on wings
    • Choosing sensors (e.g., quadrature encoder) and writing control loop to control wing position from software
    • Developing body vacuum forming process and attachment to body top plate
    • Developing materials and placement for diffusing LEDs within body
    • Designing and building circuit boards for delivering data and power to elements over Cat7 cable

    Workshop Schedule

    Workshops are Mondays 1-4PM in Packard 001. On weeks in which Monday is a holiday the workshop meets on Wednesday. The first 30 minutes of each workshop is spent on discussing high-level solutions to emerging engineering problems, providing context to the larger project. The following 2.5 hours are spent with hands-on building activities.

    Date Topic
    1/6 Strategic planning
    1/13 Program wing animations
    1/22 Make vacuum-formed bodies
    1/27 Install body LEDs
    2/3 Build wing mechanisms
    2/10 Build communication circuit boards
    2/19 Build wings
    2/24 Install wings
    3/2 Full assembly