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Feel Trapped at Work? Researchers Create Virtual Sky for Office Workers

Sitting at your desk at work, looking up, all you might notice is a flat, offwhite panel with holes in it. Looking behind you, you may notice a wall, and looking across the room, you may notice that the only window is what seems like miles away, and just so happens to have a shade pulled over it. Feel trapped? Never fear, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering is here. Emulating why cool college teachers have been taking their students to the chemistry green for ages, the German researchers have created a ceiling with fluctuating lighting that acts as a virtual sky, simulating the light patterns and cloud cover that one may see if they can ever get a seat by that window with the shade.

Replacing one’s entire ceiling with fluctuating light that resembles the real, live outside world doesn’t come cheap, and Fraunhofer makes the system available for around $1,300 per square yard. The researchers did find, through a study, that 80% of workers would rather work under the virtual sky than some regular office lighting, so if creating a happy employee atmosphere whatever the cost is something an office manager aims to do, buying a sky might seem like a good move.

The ceiling is made with 20-inch-by-20-inch tiles, each of which contains a board with 288 LEDs, and the boards are covered with matte white diffuser film so the lights blend together to better simulate a real sky, rather than create some kind of pixelated fake sky reminiscent of old first-person shooters.

The researchers rightly felt that having a huge overhead light-ceiling that fluctuates intensity all the time would be distracting, which tends to happen in the real outside world whenever a cloud passes under the sun, so they instead opted for gentle fluctuations in the light change.

If that $1,300 price tag isn’t too promising, Fraunhofer did say that the price should drop the more the units are produced, which is good, but people have to be purchasing the units in order to warrant more production, which isn’t so good. Either way, though, working under a virtual sky instead of fluorescent lighting sounds like an office endeavor worth pursuing.

(Fraunhofer via Los Angeles Times)

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