DeskLights Ambient Notification System

Arduino Technology
Michael LaGrasta's DeskLights 2.0

Michael LaGrasta's DeskLights 2.0

San Diego-based software engineer Michael LaGrasta brought his DeskLights ambient notification system to Maker Faire Bay Area this year, where I had the chance to meet him. In a nutshell, using an Arduino Uno Ethernet and 160 RGB LEDs (in the form of Adafruit’s Pixels, “the desk receives event notifications over the network and alters its color and pattern to provide those notifications to the user. The combination of color and location can be used to communicate a wide variety of information.” You can customize the color of the lights, flashing patterns, and where they light up on the desk to denote an endless number of different notifications, like incoming email, calendar alerts, basically whatever would be most useful to you. Also, “a light can change from green to red to indicate server health and process load or increase its intensity the longer you ignore your email.” Michael used an Ikea Galant desk, which has a frosted surface, but he’s currently working on a tabletop version that won’t require a translucent desktop, and will be posting updates on Twitter. Michael shared his step-by-step for the build with us in Make: Projects and is offering his code on GitHub. Useful project, and yet another reason to incorporate pretty lights.

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4 thoughts on “DeskLights Ambient Notification System

  1. Tommy Phillips says:

    But, how do you see the notifications through four inches of assorted documentation, office supplies, notebooks, clipboards, computers, and electronics that are layered on the desk surface?

    1. LaGrasta says:

      So true! It took making this desk to give me the incentive to keep it clean.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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