Artist and entrepreneur Nick Moser makes our buildings better

Sam de Leve | July 21, 2021

What makes an academia-bound psychology researcher at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital give it all up to get on a one-way flight to South America and learn to build houses? For artist and entrepreneur Nicholas Moser, the life of the mind couldn't compete with making the mind's imaginations real.

“Ideas are amazing, but bringing the ideas to fruition is the hard part, and that's why building was interesting to me,” he says. 

Male with moustache and beard wearing a newsboy cap
Male standing between two bookshelves

Just a few years after college, Moser took his flight to a new continent. Starting in Buenos Aires, he vowed to make it back to Portland within a year to attend his friend's wedding. As he traveled across South America, Moser learned natural building techniques, construction that emphasizes sustainable materials and systems. Upon returning to the United States, he was determined to draw public interest to the sustainable practices that so captivated him.

His passion was magnetic. After his straw-bale house build earned national attention on CNN, Moser received invitations to create experiences for festivals, including SXSW and Burning Man. Though the builds were temporary, Moser used the opportunity to educate festival attendees about sustainability.

People lounge around a large-scale geometric sculpture. The desert sunlight casts shadows through the criss-crossing support beams
A large-scale sculpture in five parts, connected by interlocking triangles, lights up the night with its colored lights

Large-scale installations by Moser

“What we were doing at festivals was creating awareness ... As people go through this event, they see a little information about how to be more sustainable in their lives,” says Moser.

Those opportunities opened Moser to permanent public and corporate art installations –“big shiny objects” he calls them. His builds became progressively more technological, incorporating lighting, motion capture and sensors to make the environment itself into an art piece. When Moser moved to San Francisco, he gained access to the unparalleled tech talent of the Bay Area to implement those visions. Using the Internet of Things, Moser’s team could build installations that let people wave their arms to control lighting, or make a giant bird flap its wings.

“What I like to do is create a sense of wellness and create a sense of whimsy and create a sense of possibility for people,” Moser says of these projects.

With the COVID pandemic, wellness in public spaces soon became a priority of international proportions. Eager to help, Moser and his colleague Rob Poke leaned on what they knew: lighting systems. The two realized that they could leverage the same Internet of Things technologies in their art installations to control environmental systems in public buildings.

Large scale multi-colored art installation in the city
Large-scale art sculpture resembling pink cloud supported by 3 pillars

Large-scale installations by Moser

Together, Moser and Poke designed Lumisan’s first concept, a smart lightbulb enabled with UV-C to sanitize against airborne viruses. Because UV-C is dangerous to humans, Lumisan tailored its bulb to take advantage of the day-night cycle of office buildings. By day, the smart bulb uses normal light and optimizes its light temperature and brightness for the circadian cycles of the people in the building to keep people alert and productive. By night, after the building empties, the bulb switches to UV-C to sanitize the space. 

In the year since its inception, Lumisan’s scope has grown far beyond lightbulbs into a comprehensive environmental system controller. Just as Moser’s art installations use motion sensors to control blinking lights, Lumisan’s controller can use sensors and networking to capture data and control a building’s lights, temperature, and airflow.

With guidance from mentors at the Academy and using connections made at USC, Lumisan has progressed to pilot testing their bulbs, controllers, and platform. Making partnerships with firms ranging from hotels to tech companies like Google, the startup is already gearing up to make big moves—and as more and more people return to commercial spaces, Lumisan’s timing couldn’t be more perfect.

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