Jul 1 - German scientists are bringing a view of the sky indoors with a state of the art lighting system they hope will generate a pleasant environment for deskbound office workers. The researchers want to put an end to poorly lit work environments they say adversely affect a workers' concentration, performance, and health. Jim Drury, reports.
STORY: Pining for the blue skies outside while stuck at your desk? German engineers at the Fraunhofer institute believe they have the answer. They say their Skyscape Ceiling generates a pleasant environment for stressed-out, deskbound workers. Developer Achim Pross says the ceiling will help workers stay in tune with their body's natural rhythms. SOUNDBITE (English) ACHIM PROSS, ELECTRONIC ENGINEER AT FRAUNHOFER INSTITUTE, AND DEVELOPER OF VIRTUAL SKY, SAYING: "When you are at your workplace you have a complete day inside of a room, you don't see the daylight and then your body misses the information about what time of day it is. So with a light situation like this we can tell your body what time of the day it is, actually." Pross says the Skyscape Ceiling consists of a series of tiles, each comprising 288 state of the art LEDs. Here at Fraunhofer's Stuttgart campus, a diffuser film in matt white helps blend almost 35,000 individual lights to create homogenous lighting. Pross says more than 16 million gradations of colour are possible. SOUNDBITE (English) ACHIM PROSS, ELECTRONIC ENGINEER AT FRAUNHOFER INSTITUTE, AND DEVELOPER OF VIRTUAL SKY, SAYING: "We can control every pixel with a different spectrum, different colours, so we can control the spectrum, and so we can change in different positions of the room different light situations." Volunteers were studied carrying out their daily work over four days under various lighting conditions. The virtual sky, developed to simulate natural lighting conditions on a cloudy day, was popular. But some regular users, like engineer Miline Mahale, prefer brighter colours when feeling creative. SOUNDBITE (English) MILINE MAHALE (PRON: Mah-lin Mer-har-lee) SAYING: "This lighting really helped me for creative working and even for most of the time with mood creating, so not only the sky has a dynamic, but even using the direct colour light like low light or orange light for making it more vibrant kinds of situations, for working more rigourously on the creative topics." Studies show badly-lit offices hurt worker productivity and increase sickness. Pross believes the Skyscape cloud setting fluctuates at the perfect level to promote concentration and heighten alertness. Since not everyone in an office can necessarily agree on the perfect virtual sky, the team developed a heliocity lamp to be used at personal ergonomic work stations. SOUNDBITE (English) ACHIM PROSS, ELECTRONIC ENGINEER AT FRAUNHOFER INSTITUTE, AND DEVELOPER OF VIRTUAL SKY, SAYING: "It's also a multi-spectral, dynamic LED light system that we can also change… for an individual person at his workplace, so in combination with the virtual sky have some light situation for the complete room,…so that we have a workplace situation and a complete room situation." The system isn't cheap, costing 1,000 Euros per square metre. But as the price comes down over time Pross says he expects large companies to see the light and bring a silver lining to cloudy days in the workplace.