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Researchers create virtual sky to boost productivity

Researchers create virtual sky to boost productivity

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German researchers create an LED-based ceiling said to increase workplace productivity.

Lost productivity costs the American economy $63.2 billion each year and many researchers blame this number on rising rates of insomnia among workers. Stuck inside from nine to five, the average employee misses the day’s sunlight, which can throw his or her circadian rhythm completely out of whack.

But German high-tech company Fraunhofer has developed a lighting system that might solve the problem. The system is a “virtual sky,” a luminous ceiling that extends the entire room and is designed to simulate the slowly moving open air of a cloudy day.

The ceiling consists of 50 cm by 50 cm tiles, each comprised of almost 300 light emitting diodes (LEDs). Placed over the tiles is a diffuser to ensure that no single light is perceived individually and to allow for a more natural effect. The researchers also used a combination of red, blue, green and white LEDs to produce the full light spectrum and fully mimic the sun’s rays.

For the researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, the question was how to simulate a dynamic sky without distracting workers. To do so, the team needed to ensure that the changes in lighting would be invisible to the naked eye, but at the same time “fluctuate enough to promote concentration and heighten alertness,” says Dr. Matthias Bues, head of the department working on the project.

So far, the virtual sky has received positive reviews. In an initial study, volunteers worked under the new lighting conditions and experienced static light, gently fluctuating light, and rapidly fluctuating light over the course of three days. On the fourth day, 80 percent of participants opted for the rapidly fluctuating light system.

But reaping Mother Nature’s benefits while sitting inside doesn’t come cheap—the virtual sky currently costs 1000 euros ($1300) per square meter. And while the price is said to come down, for now it may be more cost effective to take a workday break outside, under the real rapidly fluctuating sky.

Image: Fraunhofer IAO

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Sarah Korones

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure