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Project Erasmus: Former Apple engineer builds a user interface that responds to environment light

2 min read

A former Apple software development manager, Bob Burrough has developed an environmentally-lit user interface. He demonstrated this unique UI concept named Project Erasmus on Tuesday in a YouTube video. This UI design basically changes the light, shade, and reflect on the UI elements based on the lighting of the surroundings.

With this project, Burrough tries to bring back skeuomorphic design in UIs, which Apple got rid of since iOS 7. In the demonstration, he explained how this concept works. Basically, an Olloclip lens is attached to an iPhone’s front camera to capture a wide-angle shot of the room. This captured data is then used to create a lighting map, which includes data about the reflections and shadows across the environment.

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According to this map, the lighting effects on the graphic elements of the screen changes. For instance, based on the lighting in the room the toggle buttons and menu bars drop shadows and highlights. This UI design makes elements on the screen appear as real-life objects below the display. “It looks like the user-interface elements are physical objects that reside just beneath the surface of the screen, like you could reach in and touch them,” said Burrough in the demo.

The project is still work-in-progress but looks very promising. Though this environmentally-lit UI concept wouldn’t make any performance upgrades, it would surely make the user experience even more immersive and open more possibilities for further inventions. Burrough said that developers can create a backlight effect for the UI elements when the device is in a dark room, similar to the keyboards that can light up in the dark. This UI design will make user interfaces more interactive, but developers have to ensure that it is not eating up the battery when implementing in an app.

One of the YouTube users also pointed out an interesting benefit of this UI design, “As someone with color-deficient vision, I haven’t been impressed by Apple’s choice of colors to differentiate user interface elements. The presence of shadows would do a lot to define elements. This isn’t useless at all. It’s incredibly useful for people with issues like mine.

Watch the demo by Burrough here:

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