EE 185/285, CS241: Interactive Light Sculpture Project


Winter 2021
Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:30-3:50, Online
Zoom links on EE285 Canvas

Instructor: Charles Gadeken
  • Office hours: TBD
  • Instructor: Philip Levis
  • Office hours: TBD
  • ee285-win2021-staff@lists.stanford.edu

    Course materials
    Project Slack
    Engineering Intro

    Interactive Light Sculpture Project is an engineering project course focused on the interactive light sculpture that will be installed in Packard once campus is fully open. In its Winter 2021 offering, it will focus on four topics:

    • developing and extending the software that controls and replays light/motion animations on the installation,
    • writing a 3D graphical simulator of the installation,
    • writing animations and playlists for the installation,
    • bringing up the custom PCBs and firmware for the installation, and
    • building, measuring, and testing the power/signal wiring infrastructure.

    The course is a small number of 10-week engineering projects that students work on in teams. Projects touch on low-level software (firmware), application software (animation controller), artistic expression (writing animations), graphics (realistic 3D visualizations of what the installation will look like), and electrical engineering (bringing up boards and the wiring infrastructure).

    Because there is a wide variety of projects to work on, the course is open to a wide background of students. Students with introductory programming experience can work on the UI software. Students who have taken systems programming courses can work on the firmware and simulation software. Students who have experience with EE signals and communication can work on the wiring infrastructure.

    EE185 is appropriate for students with an introductory programming (e.g., CS106B/X) OR circuits and signals (e.g., EE101A and EE101B) background. EE285 and CS241 are appropriate for students who have completed the EE or CS undergraduate systems core (up through CS110), with CS148, CS248, CS140, EE101B 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 2019: design and prototyping
    • Winter 2020: alpha design
    • Spring 2020: simulator and software
    • Summer 2020: beta design and testing
    • Autumn 2020: final design
    • Winter 2021 programming and communication

    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.