Royal fellowship could take Magic Light to market

‘I’m completely guilty of coming up with a solution without an application,’ says Royal College of Art graduate Adrian Westaway. Westaway has created the Magic Light, an invention that allows people to interact and move light by ‘touching’ the beam.

To get a full grasp of the project, watch Grand Designs Trade Secrets presenter Tom Dyckhoff capering with a light beam just like fictional wizard Harry Potter in a clip on Westaway’s website,

Westaway came up with the concept of interacting physically with a beam of light while studying for an MA in Industrial Design Engineering at the RCA. He says, ‘I had been thinking about the concepts of beams of light and about how you might be able to manipulate the light physically. The first couple of projects I did I faked it – in one project I attached a long piece of string to a light bulb – but then I developed the concept properly.’

Magic Light, Westaway says, uses ‘really cheap technology’ – a basic webcam, the mover mechanism from disco lights, and a mirror. The webcam is focused on the beam of light and reacts to texture in the beam – for example, when you put your hand in it. The programme then reacts to that and controls the light.

Magic Light now has a patent, paid for by the RCA, and Westaway was last year the recipient of the first-ever James Dyson Innovation Fellowship. Now he has won the second-ever Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Fellowship in Design, worth a total of £60 000 over two years, to develop the project and hopefully bring it to market.

The Royal Commission of 1851 was set up to plan and promote the exhibition held in London in that year. Following the exhibition’s success, the commissioners used the profits to buy the Kensington Gore Estate in west London, which originally housed institutions such as the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The commission still owns the freehold on the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

Royal Commission secretary Malcolm Shirley says that in 1891 the commission used its money to set up research fellowships, initially in science. Industrial design and urban design fellowships came later, and in 2006 the first design fellowship was established.

Shirley says of Westaway’s appointment to the 2008 fellowship, ‘Adrian’s enthusiasm is infectious. He also has a really good track record for someone so young.’

Westaway says he hopes this award will allow him to develop Magic Light as a consumer product and bring it to market. He says winning the fellowship will allow him to continue to work with potential investors, while honing the design.

Westaway is adamant that the development shouldn’t become ‘just a gadget or an installation’, and says, ‘The first step of the fellowship will be to brief myself in one or two scenarios where Magic Light might be applicable, such as in shop window displays, where people with no formal training often need to move lights quite regularly.’

And one unexpected advantage of the 1851 Fellowship is that it has brought the project to the eyes of royalty.

Westaway says, ‘I went to a couple of receptions at Buckingham Palace as a student, thanks to the commission, and I spoke to Prince Philip about the project – this was still at the stage where I was faking it. He later saw Magic Light at a show, and I think he quite liked it.’

The development of magic light


• Adrian Westaway and Stephanie Chen at the Royal College of Art conduct two-week conceptual project on the brief ‘industrial light and magic’

• Westaway develops Magic Light for the RCA summer show

• The RCA pays for the patent for Magic Light


•  Westaway awarded the inaugural James Dyson Innovation Fellowship

• Westaway awarded the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Fellowship in Design

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