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MOON-LITE: Cast a ray of moonlight to help you on your way at night

A modular and reconfigurable system that is easy to install and can be used to make almost any space safer at night

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

MOON-LITEs form a modular and reconfigurable system that makes it easy to integrate low brightness illuminated "lites" into walls, handrails, and more to highlight architectural features without illuminating the full space (and making eyes adjust). They can make any space safer at night! MOON-LITE is built on Electro-Luminescent (EL) materials. These lighting components come in the forms of paint, panels, long strips, or wire, and can be configured to activate in response to touch or motion

The name MOON-LITE arose when we brought a prototype of this project to an assisted living community, where one of the residents said that they don't need lighting because they rely on moonlight to get to the bathroom at night.  

We took this as our archetypal persona, someone who is hesitant to add lighting to their environment at night perhaps because they think they don't need it, or because they have a partner sleeping next to them.

For Rose, we created three modules which work in tandem to make her life safer in seamless way, by augmenting her existing interactions. 

Consider how these three MOON-LITEs interact in the following scenario!

Rose wakes up hungry in the middle of the night.

The MOON-LITEs detect her motion and enter a low brightness mode, highlighting obstacles in the room, and making it easy for her to get a bit of extra guidance if she needs it.

When she grabs on to any MOON-LITE, all other lites enter a high brightness mode to give Rose a bit of extra assistance as she moves around.

On her way back to bed, she can tap on the outside of the light-switch to deactivate the MOON-LITEs, something not usually possible with a motion activated system or turn on the room lights if she needs to find a book on her shelf.  

If she forgets to tap the Light-Lite, the MOON-LITEs will all turn off automatically if they don't detect motion for a few minutes.

User Testing

We have performed several user studies in senior centers and nursing homes[1] around the Buffalo, NY area, with positive response from everyone from management to physical therapists, from building maintenance to the seniors themselves, who said:

A resident at a senior center enjoying a prototype MOON-LITE.

Grandma offering suggestions for making strip-lights more usable.

An example of how MOON-LITEs can be configured to trigger additional elements (here touch is controlling sound and projection).  These elements can be useful when integrating MOON-LITEs in contexts where the user has high levels of visual impairment.

[1] Interviews were conducted at: Center for Senior Services,  Tennyson Court Assisted Living & Memory Care, Weinberg Campus Retirement Community in Amherst, NY 

Existing Solutions

There are a number of existing solutions for adding night time lighting to living environments.  There are of course light switches and lamps on your bedside table. There are the ever present night lights.  There is the infamous clapper (which is sure to startle your partner).  More recently there has been an influx of motion sensitive LED lights, as well as time sensitive lights that only activate at night.  

There are also a number of app based wireless lighting controllers that are emerging.  

Why Moon-Lites?

We have spent the past two years developing a technology for prototyping applications for making electro-luminscent materials touch activated.

This board makes it possible for MOON-LITEs to offer several novel features over what is otherwise currently available.  

  • Touch them anywhere to turn up the brightness

The Whoa Board at the core of each MOON-LITE is the new technology which makes this possible!

  • A low brightness motion activated mode

MOON-LITEs are wirelessly networked and are configured to turn on in a very low brightness state when they detect motion.  This makes them easy to find, while making it less likely that they'll wake someone up if they roll over in bed, or if their cat comes into the room in the middle of the night. 

  • They can be turned off.

The Light-Lite integrates into any light switch cover, making it easy to tell your MOON-LITEs that you are done using them and you are ready for them to turn off, something not currently possible with more traditional motion activated systems.

  • Easy to integrate.  

EL materials come in paint, panels (like sheet of paper or strips of tape), or wires.  You don't need to call a contractor to install a complicated lighting system only to find that it doesn't work for you.  Just stick some tape on your wall.  If it doesn't make sense, move it around.  There is a low barrier for experimentation to help people arrive at the best solution for them.  Stick some tape on the edge of your furniture to make it easier to avoid at night.  

  • Seamless operation.

MOON-LITEs are simply evolutions of existing household objects.  There is no new interface to learn, you don't need to find a phone.  Simply continue moving around your space as you did before, but with more confidence!

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We included a video above with some early experiements we did where we applied EL tape to a wall and then made it touch sensitive. We have also included a video of a handrail painted with electroluminescent paint. If connected with our circuit board, this could also be made touch sensitive. We are also currently distributing the circuit board which makes these materials touch sensitive and building a community experimenting with these sorts of applications (

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We'd love help in understanding what demand might exist for a product like this. Also, which architectural elements would be best to target? Using this technology, it is possible to mix EL elements with things like LEDs, and is straightforward to program complex interactions.

How long has your idea existed?

  • Over 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student collaboration

Tell us about your work experience:

Josh - Second Year CS PhD student (developed touch sensing technology with dad) Mom + Grandma - Inspiration, design guidance, heads of user research Ajinkya + Eric - Second Year MFA students in Integrated Media at UT Austin

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone?

We want to augment interactions people already have to make their environments safer and more playful, particularly at night. Imagine path lighting that comes to life when you touch the railing, or a floor which plays music when you waltz (and reminds you of the steps when you forget). Imagine a bedside table that helps you turn on the lights, or call your daughter before you go to bed.

How does your idea demonstrate our Criteria of Affordability?

Light-emitting coatings are an emerging technology, and their cost is sure to decrease as supply chains expand. Until this happens, we aim to reach less advantaged communities by providing interactive lighting that is easy to install and customize to users specifications. We hope to reach assisted living communities, hospitals, nursing homes, public adult playgrounds and physical therapy offices. We also believe that by making MOON-LITEs modular, it becomes easier to try them out.

How does your idea demonstrate or plan to demonstrate scalability?

By focusing on augmenting common interactions which people already have (like using a railing to go up a flight of stairs, or rummaging around their bedside table at night) and by making a modular wireless system, we believe that MOON-LITEs are flexible enough to prove useful for a wide array of people.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

We did initial testing by rolling out our prototypes and getting feedback from small communities like Center for Senior Services (, Tennyson Court Assisted Living & Memory Care and Weinberg Campus Retirement Community in Amherst, NY. We believe that slowly polishing a product with concrete users is the best way to design something that people find useful.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

We have already reached out to a senior center, apartment buildings, retirement communities and physical therapy offices who have provided a positive feedback on this technology. Going forward, we plan on continuing to engage with these communities and also recruit team members with expertise in business and industrial design to develop a more targeted and refined product.

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Photo of Robert Smith

Congratulations Josh on your Top Idea!


Photo of Josh

Thanks! You too!

Know how you will be moving forward?

Photo of Robert Smith

Josh, I'm re-focusing on another project for now. Hope to return to StairWalker when I get some free time. How about you and your team?

Thanks, Robert

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