A few days ago, the New York Times ran a great article about OLEDs – what are they you ask? Organic Light Emitting Diodes, a cousin of the LED lights that we are starting to see everywhere from flashlights to cars’ headlights. The key difference between LEDs and OLEDs is that OLEDs are made into super-thin, flexible sheets that offer uniform, diffuse light while still retaining the energy efficiency and longevity of LEDs. (think 20 year lifespan). LEDs offer “points” of light like any normal bulb.
How cool and untapped is this technology? Well, let’s just say that there is so much opportunity here that GE is spending more than HALF its research and development budget this year on this one initiative. That is a lot of money folks. What GE is really trying to do is to find new applications for OLEDs and, more importantly, lower costs so that it is not such a huge premium over traditional lighting options. For example, Sony has an OLED-based 11″ television retailing for $2,500! Sure the picture quality and viewing angles are better than a standard flat panel, but it’s more than 10 times the cost of current technology.
Still the vision of the future with OLEDs is pretty amazing. Because the ultra-thin profile, people are experimenting with and talking about using OLEDs in ceiling tiles, wall dividers, windows and even Venetian blinds (to mimic natural lighting at night – how cool is that?). Famed lighting designer Ingo Maurer (designer of famous lights such as the Zettle’z) is already playing with this material, launching a palm tree-inspired light with OLED “fronds” for a cool $10,000. I don’t think this is his best design work, but it’s easy to see the possibilities with this technology.
As a designer, particularly one who is infatuated with lighting as well as green design, this medium is super exciting. So many times I’ve wanted expansive, diffuse light options for projects, whether to light up a piece of art/print/photograph from behind, or to use as an ambient back splash behind a soaking tub or a cooktop, etc. On a more ractical level, how about just having televisions so thin and so flexible (so that they can be rolled up) that you don’t ever have to design around them anymore. We all know how “easy” it is to place the ubiquitous flat panel over the fireplace! Similarly, when OLED sheets become widely available, lighting closets, beneath cabinets, etc. will be a snap and make everyone’s lives better and easier including designers’.
Until then, we can only hope and wait. In the meanwhile, start with outfitting/retrofitting your homes/projects with LED recessed lights – that’s a great place to start. More on that to come in another entry…
To read the original New York Times article go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/07/technology/07bulb.html?_r=2&th&emc=th