Lift is an interactive lighting feature that senses and responds to human activity in its environment. Comprised of 24 geometric LED illuminated petals attached to a single spine, each petal moves up and down in response to motion it detects - subtly fluttering as someone walks beneath it or moving more dramatically in response to faster movements.
Lift uses a series of thermal sensors to detect nearby motion while an embedded microcontroller directs each petal's movement, which is achieved using nitinol – also known as "muscle wire" – a shape memory alloy that shrinks in length when heated. The resultant motion, unlike that of typical motors, is completely silent and fluidly organic. Integrating interactive functionality into physical form as tightly as possible, Lift's spine is comprised of two parallel strips of brushed aluminum, giving Lift its physical structure while providing power and motion data to the individual petals attached to it.
Most notably, Lift uses computation as a design material, much the way you would use materials like stainless steel or glass, expanding the vocabulary of design. Lift introduces playful interactivity into an otherwise inanimate object that opens new possibilities for how we experience the spaces where we live and work. It also challenges us to consider an alternative narrative for our relationship to the digital world, imbuing our spaces with some of the richness, nuance, and immediacy we experience in the natural world.
As children we spend a lot of time learning about how the world behaves. When we smack something with our hand it makes a sound, when we let go of something it drops to the floor - these experiences form our basic understanding for how we interact with the world around us. It's why materiality exudes such a unique power, in that once it is experienced it is difficult to imagine alternative systems or narratives. Yet as sensors and actuators become exponentially cheaper, faster, and smaller, we can begin to create interactivity that has a greater richness, nuance, and immediacy – the same we would expect from the natural world.
Beyond creating richer, more nuanced interaction, pieces like Lift begin to shape a different relationship to technology. The average American adult checks their mobile device over 200 times per day, creating connection to those far away while disconnecting us to those right next to us. It's easy to think of this behavior as something inherent to technology, that the isolation is built into the device but their cause is as much a result of design decisions made with a technology constraint that is no longer relevant.
As the built environment becomes increasingly interactive, we can transform the spaces we occupy and enable a sense of agency through shared experience. We want to empower people to explore - a key design principle driving the work of Patten Studio. In a time when more and more of our digital interactivity is filtered of its diversity, we want to create interaction that gives one the pleasure of authoring their own experience. With Lift, we wanted to take that a step further and cultivate an awareness of agency, that one's actions have an impact, however subtle.
As a person walks by, Lift detects the movement of body heat and responds with an organic motion of its own. Varying movement quality resulting in slightly different responses, much like that of pebbles skipped on water where each pebble creates a slightly different rippling pattern. Lift raises our expectations of technology as something that's not only capable of subtle nuance but can encourage a connection to the richness inherent in life – that chance encounter with a stranger, the delight in discovery of the beautiful. It's design that encourages us to put our phone in our pockets for a moment and pay attention to the world around us.