MATE: Portable, smart task lighting system

This student design team from the Rochester Institute of Technology re-thought home office lighting. Getting design inspiration from one of our society’s original light sources, the candle, their concept uses LEDs for personal illumination. One can imagine a modern day Thomas Jefferson writing tomorrow’s next great manifesto to the light of the MATE.

Project Title: 
Project Designers: 
From Industrial Design: Derek Burkhardsmeier, David Engell, Brendan Gordon and Hui Sun. From Sustainable Architecture: Adam Stoker (+Professors Callie Babbitt and Alex Lobos) Rochester Institute of Technology
Project Date: 
May 2014


Project Requirements

This is a statement of the design challenge the students were given:

To design an innovative solution for “the business of the future” - a concept that responds to emerging trends around the office and offers sustainable solutions to merging traditional business functions and high mobility, as well as digital and analog content. This solution can focus on a specific product, user behavior, or a whole system as well and should align with the sustainability philosophy of the project sponsor, Staples.

Design Process

Images from the team's process

The students’ design process included secondary research, user research, initial concepting to explore form and function, testing and narrowing down concepts based on early prototypes, and a refined prototype of their final design. 

Whole Systems and Lifecycle Thinking was used extensively to explore ways of reducing overall energy usage around the home office without compromising tasks and convenience. 

Principles of Life Cycle Assessment and Biomimicry were also applied to compare the proposed system to an existing baseline and to define appropriate ways of integrating components as a cohesive system. 

You can see more about their process in their final project PDF attached below.


Design Solution

Their final design is an elegant portable light that can be used as a reading lamp for task lighting, or as a more diffuse light for way-finding and ambient light. The light source is LED-based. This unit can also be controlled with a mobile app and inductively charged.

By using task lighting with high luminous efficacy LEDs, the team’s design has the potential to reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting.

Whole Systems and Lifecycle Thinking enabled the team to demonstrate that a small degree of added cost and manufacturing inputs could lead to a large net savings in energy consumption and operation expenses, when they accounted for both the low-energy LEDs within MATE and the ability to monitor light levels in the home office.  


On Task and Ambient Lighting

In efficient lighting design, it is important to separate the illumination requirements for task and ambient lighting. This lamp effectively does this. However, a lighting designer might argue with the design team’s claims that it provides both task and ambient light.

The MATE is primarily a task light.

In lighting design, ambient lighting is defined as uniform lighting levels maintained in the room (usually by evenly spaced fixtures, coming from a non-directional source). Ambient lighting affords baseline visual comfort for way-finding and interacting with others in the room.

Because it’s designed to be used “in the dark,” the MATE is primarily a task light. Perhaps a more precise way to conceptualize this design is to consider the housing as a variable light fixture, which makes the same LED light source more or less appropriate for different tasks.

The team’s video claims that it provides the perfect lighting for any task. While that may not be strictly true (see recommended illumination levels), it does provide enough light for reading books (in “reading lamp mode”). And, in a sense, using this light as a portable lantern (in “diffuse folded” mode) meets the needs of the task of way-finding.

All of that said, the team’s design is still functional and very viable.

PDF icon The team's final presentation PDF2.26 MB