Responsive Light Therapy Box by Melody Quintana & Sarah Henry

Physical Computing Midterm Project
SVA Interaction Design MFA

Melody Quintana & Sarah Henry

Many people find that bright light therapy helps to improve their symptoms of seasonal mood and sleep disorders. This kind of treatment requires daily time commitment and consistency. The responsive light box seeks to help therapy recipients integrate light box sessions more seamlessly into their lives.

Rather than manually time and track their daily therapy sessions, therapy recipients can receive automatically-timed sessions based on their own customized activity and sleep states. The light box shines full-spectrum white light during the day, and orange light at night to promote the production of natural melatonin to help people sleep better.




Background and goals

Currently when a person uses a light box, he needs to manage his own phototherapy treatment sessions every day. This entails carving out time to sit in front of the light box, figuring out how long the session should last, and remembering to do this the next day. Falling off a treatment schedule or ending treatment before winter is over can quickly bring back symptoms.

Here’s what a typical light box looks like. The size, shape and incredible brightness call a great amount of attention to the device, creating the possibility of awkward tension if it’s used in a social environment such as a person’s office desk.


Our design goals were twofold:

1. Responsiveness

A light box should learn about who it’s serving and cater to that person’s unique needs. Our goal was to build a light box that senses how much therapy someone needs based on his or her current levels of activity and sleep, and them automatically times each session appropriately. The activity and sleep data come from the recipient’s Fitbit – a wristband they wear throughout the day that monitors their step count and sleep habits, among other things.

To help with energizing during the day or calming at night, we also set out to make our light box time-aware. If it’s being used during the day, it provides full-spectrum light and if it’s being used at night it provides orange light, which studies have shown helps people sleep better than white light.

2. Attractiveness

Someone who needs light therapy shouldn’t have to hide out at home for 30 minutes everyday; the sessions should fit in more seamlessly with their daily routine. To avoid feelings of embarrassment or discomfort, we set out to make our light box function dually as a tool for therapy and a delightful piece of artwork for an office desk.




When discussing how we might construct the piece, we entertained many different ideas.


Ultimately, we decided to design the box around the experience of sitting at a computer, with the idea that therapy sessions can most efficiently be completed while the recipient checks email, does work or watches TV shows and movies. The box is triangular in shape to encourage the therapy recipient to set it catty-corner to his or her computer, with the light facing his or her eyes.

We also played with several ideas for how to make the box visually appealing. A couple of our original sketches are below. In the end we went with a pretty sweet laser-cut vinyl print over opaque acrylic for a soft, zenny feel.





For an in-depth look at how we set up our wiring to work with an A/C outlet, Arduino and breadboard, check out my post on wiring the light box.


To find out how we extracted data from the Fitbit API, sent it to Processing for analysis and then to Arduino, read my post on coding the light box.


Want to learn how we made the physical object? Take a look at my post on building the lightbox.


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