These Sun-Tracking Devices Pipe Real Sunlight Into Shadowy Buildings

These Sun-Tracking Devices Pipe Real Sunlight Into Shadowy Buildings

It’s a necessary evil of designing in cities: Only the tallest or most perfectly situated buildings get much sunlight. A company called Sun Central thinks it has a solution — in the form of an autonomous sun-tracking mechanism that sucks up sunlight and pipes it into dark buildings.

Today in Berlin, the California and British Columbia-based startup unveiled one of its first high-profile projects: A retrofit to the Canadian Embassy, a beautiful building that’s only a few years old. Unfortunately, the centrepiece of the design is a 18m tall, decahedral conference space with a roof of skylights. This so-called Timber Hall suffers from a simple problem — a ten story building next door blocks most of its sunlight, turning it into a veritable cave.

And so, in a project officially unveiled today, SunCentral installed 20 of its flagship product to do what nature could not. The devices, which are bolted onto the hall’s existing skylights, are called SunBeamers.

A pothole-sized circular frame, filled with carefully calibrated mirrors, each SunBeamer focuses existing sunlight from the taller building and beams it onto 20 circular devices filled with mirrored fins. The reflective louvers are mounted on rods controlled by an onboard GPS that tracks the location of the sun and rotates the fins to the best position for light harvesting.

In the Canadian Embassy, the system has doubled the amount of light that reaches the interior of the space — a huge improvement, considering the alternative (installing artificial lights, presumably).

But it’s really just a case study for the company’s broader ambitions, which involve a more complicated system that would take the collimated light beam that’s collected by the SunBeamer and carefully redirect it, through a series of installed mirrors and spandrel panels, far into the interiors of buildings. The idea is to improve the quality of life for patients in hospitals, workers in offices, and elsewhere, as well as cutting down on energy costs incurred by artificial lighting.

It’s a brilliant idea for its simplicity: That a mechanism as simple as a mirror could be manipulated into a whirring, twinkling system of moving parts that could radically change how we light (and live in) tall buildings. Check out more here.