The aim of the Make Some Lights event is to bring the philosophies of ‘Hackers‘ into the lighting industry in the hope of finding a new source of inspiration.
The term ‘Hacker‘ has become synonymous with the romanticised Hollywood image of breaking into secure computer files to save the day and the roots of hacking lie in the 1950’s in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when a group of like-minded computer students who found joy in finding creative, playful, and innovative solutions came together. Hacking is not just an activity. It is a state of mind that seeks excellence and pushes boundaries. The hacker movement is based on the principles of sharing, openness and freedom of information. By sharing knowledge it allows the development of new ideas and process to happen at the fastest possible rate; a free exchange of information allows the greatest possibility for creativity.
The ability to take something apart and learn how it works, enables you to improve it. This approach led to the establishment of ‘Hardware Hacking’. Hardware Hacking blurs the boundaries of inventing and electronic engineering, drawing on a long history of invention, DIY, and shed tinkering. Recent years has seen a new name for hardware modification ‘The Maker Movement’. Keeping the same open source beliefs has helped the movement expand rapidly, creating massive online communities and sites like ‘Instructable’. A ‘How to ...’ video on almost any aspect of making can be found on Youtube making it very easy to learn basic skills.
The last 4 years have seen a progressive shift towards LED's becoming the predominant source of light for the future. The side effect of this is that the lighting industry has been largely transformed in to a semi-conductor industry. This has created the opportunity for many electronics companies such as Samsung and Toshiba to gain entrance to the lighting market. This change will also allow the lighting industry to tap in to the resources of the electronics industry.
The explosion of the maker movement has in part been caused by the development of cheap computer components. Technology that a few years ago was cutting edge has now become an off the shelf consumer product thats costs pennies. LEDs are also continuing to decrease in price and are now widely available to purchase for as little as 3 pence per LED. All of these factors contribute to allowing easy and cost effective creation of new individual LED lighting products without the need for traditional manufacturing infrastructure in lighting. The shift towards LED lighting has made obsolete much of the traditional knowledge base of the lighting industry and replaced it with a technology that is unfamiliar. The common perception of LEDs amongst lighting designers is that they are complicated whereas amongst the hacker community they are considered an exciting tool. The attitude of the Maker Community is what we seek to replicate.
The first project to be tackled at a Make Some Lights workshop is an LED torch driven by a small voltage boosting circuit called a “Joule Thief” and using a small mint tin as a case. The joule thief boosts the voltage of a 1.5V AA battery so that it can power a 3V LED. It also can use nearly all the energy in the battery. The property of being able to use an otherwise drained battery is where the name Joule Thief comes from. This project perfectly reflects the philosophy of the early hacker movement of taking joy in a playful solution. To drive the 3V LED, two batteries could be used but the joule thief elevates this circuit beyond an ordinary solution. Once invented, this schematic was shared within the online community and it has now been developed and improved upon.
The lighting industry can learn many lessons from the hacking community. Information is tightly controlled within individual companies and a lack of transparency from manufactures causes mistrust not just in our industry but in all fields regarding LEDs. A more open approach could make our industry more efficient at a time when margins are being squeezed on all sides.
Hackers are inspired to take control of the objects that they use on a daily basis and improve them, taking ownership of the technology and adapting it to make it better. Hackers enjoy exploring details and stretching their capabilities; they are not content to learn the minimum. Making Some Lights affords the opportunity to become a Light Hacker instead of just a Lighting Designer.
Make Some Lights consists of Joe Vose from Light Bureau and Light Collective. Workshop 1 was held in the Making Room at Mike Stoane Lighting in Edinburgh. Thanks for their support.