Featured image: Rainy weather in Seattle by Peter Svensk, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
It’s undeniable that rain plays a very important role in the lives of the people who inhabit Seattle. However, not everyone feels the same way about the rain. Some people dislike the rain because of the inconvenience caused by rainy days. Some even think that rain brings too many grey skies and too much darkness to their beloved city.
However, I don’t share these same negative feelings about the rain. I have had a complex feeling about rain since I was a child. Perhaps because I was born during a rose-colored dawn which, in China, predicts a rainy day. From then forward, it seems to always rains wherever I go. Rain is one of the reasons I decided to move to Seattle. It is the reason for the lush green landscape and some even say it is one of reasons behind the prominent coffee culture of this wonderful city. Seattleites like to curl up with a hot beverage to warm ourselves.
Rain is a precious natural resource and we need to recognize it. I want to remind people how fortunate we are to have so much rain in this region. That’s why I originally came up with the idea to start the Rainlight project.
Rainlight is an environmental and interactive public art display that aims to restructure the neurological response of a community of people to rainy weather through a display of LED lighting strips which are activated by precipitation—in other words, when it rains, they light up.
Rainlight addresses topics we cover at Comm Lead: how can technology contribute to new forms of connection between individuals? In the case of Rainlight, how does Rainlight change the narrative around the way people perceive rain?
Rainlight addresses the reputation of Seattle’s rainy atmosphere with neural reprogramming, which will make natural connections between rain and light. Rainlight is essentially a form of light therapy that aims to mitigate what’s called the “winter blues” or more officially diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In addition, it will also motivate people to come outside when it rains to enjoy the magic and beauty of the lighting effects, thus creating a shared community experience and giving people opportunities to socialize. In this way, Rainlight addresses topics we cover at Comm Lead: how can technology contribute to new forms of connection between individuals? In the case of Rainlight, how does Rainlight change the narrative around the way people perceive rain?
After a few months of research, my partner Rohit Manokaran and I developed our first version of Rainlight on November 2016. We used individually addressable LED lights, as they are crucial to obtaining Rainlight’s intended visual effect as each individual light will illuminate as the raindrops hit it. Our current prototype is programmed to respond to three patterns of rain: light rain, normal rain, and heavy showers. This random and scattered pattern effect with the lights could not be achieved by other lighting options, such as common LED rope lights. Our hard work paid off, and we were able to design the lighting effects that we pictured in our minds from the beginning of the project.
We chose to power Rainlight with a green technology that consists of a solar panels connected to a pack of rechargeable batteries and a light sensor. During the day, the solar panel will recharge the batteries, thus providing 10-12 hours of operation per one full charge. Rainlight will operate only when three operating conditions have been met: first, the level of the natural light has to be dim enough; secondly, when raindrops fall upon the sensor directly; thirdly, when data connectivity received rain activity from the closest weather stations’ rain data.
This is a developing story as currently Rohit and I are still trying to develop our product to be cost effective and more visually appealing. After the presentation at the UW Science and Technology showcase on January 19, we received many professional recommendations. We also recruited a new team member, John Montgomery, a MBA student of Foster School of Business, who attended the event. I look forward to publishing an update in Flip the Media as we move to the next phase of design.
I would like to thank everyone who gave us continuous supports during the development phase: Ravi Sanker (PHD candidate of UW Department of Mechanical Engineering School), Rohan Patidar (MS student at UW Department of Electrical Engineering), Anita Verna Crofts (Associate Director and Department Flight Instructor at UW Communication Leadership graduate program), and my dear friend who has been supporting the project, Donna Holloman.