“What if we could make a projector that you could screw into a light socket?” That was the question posed during one of Oak & Morrow’s brainstorming sessions back in March 2014. Now, exactly one year later, the Netherlands-based design studio is funding the device, called Beam, on Kickstarter—and as of press time, had surpassed its $200,000 goal by more than $450,000, with eight days still to go.
The studio knew it had a good idea on its hands at that very first brainstorming session. “Everybody started sharing ideas on where they would place Beam in their house, and almost all of them were for a different location,” says Jeroen van Geel, Oak & Morrow’s cofounder and creative director. Not only that, but team members quickly dreamed up a variety of scenarios for using the device. “I, for example, wanted to use it in my bedroom as a smart projector and wake up with the weather forecast and latest news,” Van Geel says. “Someone else wanted it to project multiplayer games controlled with smartphones on his dining table. And so on. That’s when we decided that we needed a small computer and if-this-then-that rules.”
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Controlled through an Apple or Android application, Beam is essentially an “Internet of things” device, working over WiFi or Bluetooth to make any surface interactive. The if-this-then-that rules allow users to mix and match conditions to result in a variety of actions, from playing personal video messages when a user walks into the room to waking up with the daily weather forecast.
Before developing that functionality, however, a new team was created out of Oak & Morrow—Beam Labs, Inc., which would oversee the future of the project from prototyping to ultimate production and marketing. The Beam team first had to prove the idea’s technical validity, building out an initial prototype to operate with any e26 or e27 light socket—and making sure it would also work with a range of other light fittings via adapters. For the physical design of the product, the team strived for simplicity. “We immediately understood that if we want to create a new kind of projector that would be placed permanently in a prominent spot in your house, then it should look like a beautiful object, not a tech-thing,” Van Geel says. Indeed, having team members take the prototype device home and play with it proved a key part of the development process.
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In its final form, Beam looks a bit like a lampshade, particularly when hanging from its fabric cable. Beyond aesthetic considerations , the team had to balance the need for space for internal components (including an LED Pico projector, LED lights, two speakers, an Android computer, a 1.3-GHZ dual-core processor, and 8GB of storage) as well as provide sufficient ventilation—goals accomplished through a widening head and a series of perforations around its circumference. “We decided to turn the ventilation into a design element as well,” Van Geel says. And since Beam screws into any light socket, essentially replacing an existing light fixture (if you’re not using its cotton cord), Beam Labs, Inc. also added 12 LED lights to allow users to choose between projection or illumination, so that no functionality would be lost.
Early sketches of the projector The Beam prototype
Another small but crucial detail was creating a slight flatness on one side of the projector, so that it could also be used on a desk or table. “When you put the element on a table it needs to project a good image on the wall, so the angle needed to be perfect,” Van Geel says.
On Kickstarter, the Founder and Early Bird reward levels are already sold out, but backers can still get their very own Beam projector before it hits shelves for $399—and help the Beam team hit their reach goals, where they promise to introduce additional storage, colorful cables, new housing colors and even colored LEDs. Add another $51 and you can get a hoodie, too. Pretty soon, it seems, we’ll all be able to project anywhere, limited only by the length of our power cords—and the thickness of our wallets.
This is the latest installment of In the Details, our weekly deep-dive into the making of a new product or project. Last week, we deconstructed Brendan Keim's LED torch.