EE 185/285, CS241: Interactive Light Sculpture Project


Autumn, Winter, Spring, 2019
Tuesdays 3-4:20, Online

Instructor: Charles Gadeken
  • Office hours: TBD
  • Instructor: Philip Levis
  • Office hours: TBD
  • TA: Matthew Trost
  • Office hours: TBD

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

    Course materials
    Project Slack

    Because all courses in spring quarter use distance learning, the course focus has changed. We will offer the course again in autumn 2020 for installation and artistic programming. In spring quarter, the course will focus on writing a 3D simulator, such that one can program it identically to the actual installation and visualize how it behaves. The project is essentially a 10-week software engineering project that will touch on low-level systems (the simulation presents the 76 Fractal Flyers are removable flash drives), graphics (realistic 3D visualizations of what the Fractal Flyers will look like), and performance (we need it to run in real time). The goal is that this simulator will let people explore and play with all kinds of behaviors and displays before uploading them into the physical installation once it's installed.

    EE185 is appropriate for students with an introductory programming background (e.g., CS106B/X). EE285 and CS241 are appropriate for students who have completed the CS undergraduate systems core (up through CS110), with CS148, CS248, CS140, and/or CS190 also being extremely useful.


    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, named FLIGHT. FLIGHT consists of 76 Fractal Flyers, bird-like shapes inspired by the geometry of the stairwell that move. The wings of the Fractal Flyers are dichroic acrylic, so that during the day their color shifts and changes with the angle of light. At night, they light up with patterns across their bodies and wings. 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 two instructors: Professor Levis 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/CS241 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: simulator
    • Autumn 2020: 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.

    Workshop Schedule

    There are no workshops planned for spring.