Playing indoors with daylight

The FLOALT art installation at IKEA Festival is a play with light. The piece is made possible by the new technology in IKEA Smart lighting.

The IKEA Smart Lighting project picked up speed three years ago. The team realised it was possible to provide customers with a simple-to-use and install networked lighting system, at an affordable price.

And, it was also the perfect creative fodder for lighting designer Felix Bodin who is creating an installation at the IKEA Festival in Milan.

”When I first encountered the IKEA FLOALT I was struck by the possibilities of bringing daylight indoors,” says Felix. “The panels allow you to bring in different lighting moods, you can easily control them without installing a single cord,” says Felix Bodin.

Felix has constructed an installation using sixty of the FLOALT panels, together with Ulf Axelsson from IKEA – who was part of the team that developed the Smart Lighting system. They have been prototyping the installation for several months in a warehouse in Älmhult. Frans Levin at Sigma Connectivity, has programmed each of the sixty panels to shift in light strength and temperature, shifting between warm and cold light.

”Mimicking daylight is really tricky, so we had to play around with a lot of different light temperatures before we got it right,” says Felix. The team has gone beyond what kind of light you might normally have at home, along the way encountering strange lighting combinations. From brown light, which Felix described as disgusting to a strong grey light, which was like a really strong filter over the room.

FLOALT floating above the IKEA Festival.
FLOALT floating above the IKEA Festival.

The piece is a manifestation of daylight. “I wanted to play with light, just as clouds do on a windy summer’s day and bring that inside. Also, I felt the piece needed to portray the airiness connected to the panel’s wirelessness, hence the floating placement in the ceiling,” says Felix.

The wireless lighting system allows you to control the light temperature and seamlessly dim light sources without needing an electrician.

In this new generation of the Smart Lighting system you can even the use panels on the wall, as kitchen storage doors or an even your own art installation. There are also remote controls and motion sensors.

When asked what product development engineer Ulf Axelsson at IKEA Components appreciates most about the new generation of IKEA Smart Lighting, he says: “Well, I really enjoy being able to set the atmosphere with my Android. But to be honest, my home is more of a test lab where I do hacks and test features that we might introduce in the future.”

“It’s really fun that people have started to notice the products, and that there already is support from other systems. It will be interesting to see how people experiment at home,” says Ulf.

Looking at it from the consumer’s perspective, Ulf noted that “it was essential that the system was easy to both install, upgrade and use.” The new Smart Lighting products are simple. With the products you receive a gateway, which takes the shape of a small, round object – roughly the size of a lunch box. This has a cable which you then connect to the internet – via a router. Next, you download an app, which allows you to control the lighting. Light panels and bulbs can even be grouped, allowing you to control all the lights in one room. You can control both the strength and temperature of the lights.

Mimicking daylight is really tricky, so we had to play around with a lot of different light temperatures before we got it right.

You can create personalized settings, including, morning alarms allowing you to be woken by soft light. It functions exactly like an alarm on a smartphone, but instead of a ringtone, it’s a lighting mood decided by the user.

For Ulf Axelsson and his colleagues, a lot of time has been put into making the different parts of the system work together. “For the wireless communication, we chose the ZigBee network protocol which is established and already used in products today.” The ZigBee protocol creates personal area networks with small, low-power digital radios. You find it in many home automation products.

The technology defined by the ZigBee specification is intended to be simpler and less expensive than other wireless networks, which we know as as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

It was also a challenge to put out a range of software-based products in a supply chain designed for furniture, Ulf Axelsson tells us. “Connected to your wifi at home the products can be upgraded when we release new features. This kind of at-home-evolution-products have never been made at IKEA before. We have now built a system where we can release new products at a low cost.”

“I wanted to play with light, just as clouds do on a windy summer’s day and bring that inside. Also, I felt the piece needed to portray the airiness connected to the panel’s wirelessness, hence the floating placement in the ceiling.”

The FLOALT installation, being built in a warehouse in Älmhult.
The FLOALT installation, being built in a warehouse in Älmhult.