Introduction: IlluMOONation - a Smart Lighting Model

About: The Adler Planetarium engages teens, undergraduates, volunteers, around the Chicago land area on real-world research. We hope you enjoy our project developed Instructables!

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and not been able to see any stars?

Millions of children across the globe will never experience the Milky Way where they live due to the increased and widespread use of artificial light at night that is not only impairing our view of the universe but adversely affecting our environment, safety, energy consumption, and health.

For three billion years, life on Earth existed in a rhythm of light and dark that was created solely by the illumination of the Sun, Moon, and stars. Now, artificial lights overpower the darkness and our cities glow at night, disrupting the natural day-night pattern and shifting the delicate balance of our environment. One species that is especially harmed by this phenomenon is sea turtles.

When sea turtles are born, they look to the moon as a source of light to guide them to the ocean for safety. But these days, streetlights by beaches have become so bright that baby turtles often end up following them onto the streets, dying from either dehydration, predators, or being run over by vehicles on the road. Other nocturnal animals are also harmed by these glaring lights, though not to the same extent as turtles. The increased use of these cool-toned lights at night can cause them to stray from their normal circadian rhythm and offset their biological function, sometimes even to the extent of death.

For humans, blue light affects our melatonin levels, leading to less sleep and a plethora of other problems that come as a result. Research suggests that artificial light at night can increase risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer, and more.

If you have read this far, you may be asking, what can we do to help? Well, simply turning your lights off when they're not needed and changing the color of your lights to reds and yellows is a good start. However, we need a system that can be implemented in cities all around the world to truly make an impact and reverse the devastating toll that light pollution has taken on our Earth.

We here at SEAside Lighting Co. have come up with the perfect solution. We present to you: illuMOONation —our very own Smart Lighting System consisting of eco-friendly streetlights made with basic sensors and LEDs. illuMOONation is not only object-activated and environmentally-controlled, but also something YOU can make at home! Intrigued? Well, read on to find out how to create your own version of this Smart Lighting Model... and maybe one day make it a full-scale reality!

Key Features:

  • Moving Lights - Ultrasonic sensor detects where an object is located and turns on the respective light, while the rest remain off
  • One-sided - On ocean side and point away from beach so animals that come to shore at night aren't distracted by the glare, while still providing full-street coverage for vehicles and pedestrians
  • Red-toned Lights - Nocturnal animals have enhanced abilities to see shorter wavelengths, so warmer tones don't affect them as much, also better for humans due to detrimental impacts of blue light at night that are mentioned above
  • Reflective Shielding and Downward Angle - Light is directed using the reflective material inside the shielding module and is angled down so it covers a larger area without increasing light scatter
  • Light/Dark Mode - Lights and sensors that aren't needed are disabled when it is bright to conserve energy
  • Weather Responsive - Takes temperature and humidity readings and decreases intensity when prone to more light scatter
  • Eco-Friendly - Smart energy system using solar panel to charge battery with readily available sunlight to reduce the addition of fossil fuels to the atmosphere
  • Central Display - OLED screen shows sensor values and lighting system mode, more accessible to general user and administrators alike
  • Data Logging - Sensor data is stored on an SD card so it can be analyzed to further improve the model and calibrate to environment


Structure -

Electronics -

(Click to HERE buy the Arduino UNO Starter Kit with sensors, wires, etc)

Equipment -

Step 1: Build the Environment

  1. Take the foam boards and hot glue them together with the longer sides flush with each other to create a larger base for your model.
  2. Break the popsicle sticks in half and hot glue them equally spaced and perpendicular along the line where the 2 boards meet up. This is to reinforce the joint.
  3. Mark the dowel rod in 4 2-inch pieces and cut them using the X-Acto knife.
  4. Make holes in 4 corners of the board about 1.5” from the edges and hot glue the dowel pieces in. Make sure the dowels are perpendicular to the board from all angles.
  5. Flip the board over and check to see if it is level (it should be like a mini-table). Cut out pieces of construction paper to form the road, grass, sidewalk, and divider.
  6. Glue these pieces onto the board using the glue stick to show the environment for the lighting system.
  7. Use the paintbrush to spread liquid glue on the empty side of the board. Before it dries, add sand and pat evenly into the glue until it sticks. Then use blue paper to simulate water on this “beach”.
  8. Twist the pipe cleaners into the shape of 2 sea turtles to represent the animals that live in the target environment.

Step 2: Add the Lights

  1. Cut the straws in half to form the poles for your lights.
  2. Make 3 equally spaced holes through the board in the divider that runs between the beach and sidewalk. Test to see if the straw fits, if not make them bigger.
  3. Glue the aluminum foil to a piece of black construction paper of the same size using a glue stick. Trace the attached template on the paper 3 times and cut out the shapes to form the shielding for the light.
  4. Make a hole in the middle of each shielding for the LED. Start off small and only increase in small increments until the LED fits but does not fall through.
  5. Fold in the 4 sides of the shielding (with the foil facing up). Use small strips of tape to join the sides and make it 3D.
  6. Bend the light portion of the LEDs down so they form a 60º angle when the leads are vertical.
  7. Attach 3 male-to-female wires to their respective leads: black for ground, green for the green value, and red for the red value. The blue pin is unused for this project. Thread the wires through the straw light poles.
  8. Hot glue the shielding onto each LED from the back, being sure not to directly touch the components or metal leads.
  9. Stick the wires and the bottom of the straws through the holes in the board. Use hot glue to secure the poles perpendicular to the base from all directions.

Step 3: Add the Sensors

  1. Cut a slit for the Ultrasonic sensor at the end of the road, about 0.5” from the edge of the board. Push the sensor in so it is perpendicular to the base from a side view and secure with hot glue. This is extremely important so the readings are accurate and the signals bounce off the object, not the board.
  2. In the corner on the opposite side of the road, cut holes to fit the OLED and DHT pins. One again secure with hot glue without endangering any of the electrical components.
  3. Use tape to attach the Photoresistor on the barrier and before the first light. This Photoresistor module is a gift kindly provided by Elenco, the creator of Snap Circuits, as a donation to the program.
  4. Finally, hookup the sensors to the Arduino using the breadboard and the provided circuit diagrams. Make sure to connect the 2 Arduinos together, and only have the SD Card circuit on the second Arduino, which is known as the “employee”. The other one, with all the sensors, is the “boss”.

Step 4: Add the Code

  1. Before proceeding, walk through the flow charts to understand principles of the code provided and how it functions in the model.
  2. Install Arduino IDE software on computer. Download the code from the attached Google Drive folder. Install and include the SPI, Wire, and DHT, Adafruit_GFX, and Adafruit_SSD1306 libraries from the Library Manager if the compiler prompts to.
  3. Change the pin numbers to match your circuit, if necessary. Ignore this step if you used the same pins as the provided circuit diagrams.

Step 5: Test the Model

  1. Upload the respective code to each Arduino and connect to battery packs for power.
  2. Run the program for as long as needed to collect data, the SD Card transcription will start automatically.

Attached is the data we collected through an indoor trial of our model. Unfortunately due to weather conditions and safety issues we were not able to test it outdoors, however it still offers proof of concept and information about the testing environment.

Throughout the trial period, the Temperature and Humidity readings remained relatively the same because of the internal condition regulation in the testing environment (a house). There are a few periodic spikes, but those likely amount to errors given their infrequency and lack of correlation. The distance also does not change outside the margin of error because there were no real cars of people moving in the environment. However, if this was a full scale model, the distance would probably be the most variable factor due to the ever-changing activity levels in the area and lack of predictability of those patterns. However, since the model was stationed near a window, the photoresistor values do in fact fluctuate drastically. When the model is first started at night they read in the sub 50 range. However, as the sun rises and the ambient lighting becomes brighter, the photoresistor values rise accordingly. After that, the graph drops again when the blinds are closed in the testing area, but they shoot back up when the artificial room lighting is turned on. In conclusion, through this data collected it is clearly proven that our model does in fact accurately report data about its surroundings, and that that information can be used to alter the system settings to reflect the conditions it is in and contribute to reducing light pollution as a whole.

Step 6: Troubleshoot

Nothing happening? Try these steps to help fix the issue:

Before you begin -

  • Make sure the code compiles and is uploaded correctly to both Arduinos. If the compiler displays an error message, make changes depending on what it says. Some common issues are incorrect/lack of libraries, a missing semicolon, or incorrect port selected for the USB connection.
  • Check for the wiring and battery charge. Make sure the power and ground rails on the breadboard are connected to the Arduino.

Lights don't turn on? -

  • Make sure the OLED says “Dark Mode Activated”. The smart system disables the LEDs during “light mode” to conserve energy and prevent unnecessary usage.
  • See if your LEDs are burnt out using a simple code to turn them on and off. Don’t forget to include a resistor when testing.

OLED doesn’t turn on? -

  • Connect the “employee” Arduino to the computer and open the serial monitor to ensure that the values are being read.
  • Try deleting the existing file on the SD card and running the code again.

SD Card not reading data? -

  • Make sure the SD card is put in reader, and correctly.
  • Ensure there is adequate storage available for the data on the card.

Anything else? -

  • Contact us and we can help solve the problem!

Step 7: Conclusion

All in all, illuMOONation is the ideal comprehensive lighting solution for waterfront lighting all over the world. Its unique features have never been seen before in the lighting market, and the impact it has on reducing light pollution while also being environmentally conscious and beneficial to both humans and animal species is unmatched. However, we know that illuMOONation is not perfect. Due to the limited time frame and materials provided for the project, we were not able to make a full-scale model and test it in a real outdoor environment. But with YOUR help, we can take illuMOONation to the next level and embed it in our daily lives, for a better world for all life on Earth.

Future Plans -

Our next steps with this project would be to add additional components and program them to fit the environment as well. For example, it would be beneficial to include more sensitive sensors to distinguish between animal and vehicle/human activity, as it is not necessary to turn on the lights for passing wildlife. Additionally, we plan to have an IR Emitter and Receiver on each light post, forming an “invisible wall” in front on the beach. The “wall” would only be activated at night during turtle breeding season, and would sound a gentle buzzer to signal when someone has crossed into the beach area. This is yet another reminder to be considerate of the native wildlife and prevent even more of them from being harmed. We would also love to be able to implement the solar power system if given the adequate materials, as energy efficiency is another important factor in decreasing the anthropogenic effect on our world today. We would also love to collaborate with other teams and incorporate our ideas together to create one solution that solves a multitude of problems regarding light pollution and is truly the all-inclusive lighting solution.

Challenges & Accomplishments -

Completing Astro-Science Workshop without actually coming to the Adler was a change that no one could’ve predicted. It has been especially difficult collaborating on an engineering project through Zoom because we can’t see what each person is doing in their own home, so it’s hard to troubleshoot and fix issues as they arise. However, we employed certain mechanisms to make sure we stay on track with our plan and everyone is always aware of what each person is doing. One highlight was our Project Tracking spreadsheet where we delineated each of the tasks, their description, status, who will complete them, and the overall progress of the project. This enabled us to work together more efficiently as we could check up on each other and help out as necessary, and allowed us to develop communication skills that will be essential, especially in these upcoming months.

Acknowledgements -

A big shout out to our amazing instructor Jesus Garcia for teaching us how to use all the different components and granting us the opportunity to participate in this program, even in a remote setting. Additionally, thank you so much to Geza Gyuk, Chris Bresky, and Ken Walczak for all of your help throughout. Your insight has really enhanced our skills beyond just the scope of our projects and we will carry the lessons we learned with us in the future. We would also like to express our sincerest gratitude to Kelly Borden and everyone at the Adler Planetarium for hosting this program year after year and allowing passionate teens like ourselves to engage in the STEM field and astronomy in our very own hometown. And last but not least, thank you to each and every one of our ASW peers for being such a fun, relatable, and supportive group. These last 3 weeks of getting to know one another and becoming friends has been unlike anything we could’ve ever imagined, and it was an experience that will last a lifetime.

ZIP File -

Click HERE to access all the materials you'll need to make a model of illuMOONation at home!