The technologies that once promised to free us from soul-crushing office jobs have mostly resulted in just the opposite. But Mitsubishi is leveraging one technology in an attempt to make working in a sea of cubicles feel less depressing. It’s developed an LED-lit panel that can simulate natural light coming in from the outside, creating the effect of a skylight even in an office at the bottom of a towering skyscraper where that would be impossible
Mitsubishi isn’t the first company to attempt to leverage the ever-improving image quality of flat panel displays to try and artificially bring the outside indoors. Almost a decade ago a company called SkyV created a similar product that played animations of clouds and even towering trees blowing in the wind on ceiling-mounted LCDs. In 2014, Royal Caribbean brought the idea to cruise ships where it installed 80-inch 4K screens on the walls of all the interior staterooms of its Quantum of the Seas to create virtual balconies showing live feeds from cameras mounted to the sides of the ship.
Most recently, even Dyson has introduced products that attempt to simulate the look of natural sunlight in a room with its Lightcycle lamps that use your location to accurately recreate the intensity and color of what’s outside, assuming you don’t have access to a window. Humans just weren’t meant to stay trapped indoors all day long.
As with Dyson’s approach, Mitsubishi’s new Misola panels rely on color-changing LEDs instead of LCD displays. But whereas Dyson’s Lightcycle lamps just emit tinted light in all directions, the design of the Misola panel, which features a frame that creates the appearance as if the virtual window is recessed by about five inches, manages to simulate the color, intensity, and movements of the sun overhead.
Throughout the day only three sides of the panel’s frame are illuminated leaving the fourth looking like a shadow as a result of the simulated sun’s rays not coming from directly overhead. It’s a simple trick—it’s not like Mitsubishi blew its R&D budget developing it—but it’s a subtle visual clue that humans naturally associate with a light source not being directly overhead, and along with the gradually adjusting intensity and color temperature, it’s a feature that further helps sell the idea that this is a real window with real sunlight pouring through it.
Mitsubishi sees offices, and even giant warehouses, as being the primary locations where its Misola panels could be installed to improve the quality of life for employees. The company also feels they could be equally beneficial in places like hospitals or nursing homes—where even just the feeling of being exposed to the outdoors could help improve a patient’s demeanor. But with a starting price of around $6,200 for the manually-programmed base version and over $6,800 for the deluxe version that can run on automated timers, Mitsubishi is going to have a hard time convincing companies to cough up that much money, when windowless offices are already a result of cost-cutting measures.