Flexible OLEDs Could Be Part of Lighting's Future
By Peter Svensson
October 20, 2008 7:41AM
Digg It! Bookmark to del.icio.us OLEDs are beginning to be used in TVs and cell-phone displays, and big names like Siemens and Philips are throwing their weight behind the technology to make it a lighting source as well. The OLED printer was made by General Electric Co. on its sprawling research campus in upstate New York.
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On a bank of the Mohawk River, a windowless industrial building of corrugated steel hides something that could make floor lamps, bedside lamps, wall sconces and nearly every other household lamp obsolete.
It's a machine that prints lights.
The size of a semitrailer, it coats an 8-inch (20-centimeter) wide plastic film with chemicals, then seals them with a layer of metal foil. Apply electric current to the resulting sheet, and it lights up with a blue-white glow.
You could tack that sheet to a wall, wrap it around a pillar or even take a translucent version and tape it to your windows. Unlike practically every other source of lighting, you wouldn't need a lamp or conventional fixture for these sheets, though you would need to plug them into an outlet.
The sheets owe their luminance to compounds known as organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs. While there are plenty of problems to be worked out with the technology, it's not the dream of a wild-eyed startup.
OLEDs are beginning to be used in TVs and cell-phone displays, and big names like Siemens and Philips are throwing their weight behind the technology to make it a lighting source as well. The OLED printer was made by General Electric Co. on its sprawling research campus in upstate New York. It's not far from where a GE physicist figured out a practical way to use tungsten metal as the filament in a regular light bulb. That's still used today, nearly a century later.
The invention of the incandescent bulb created the pattern for home lighting: Our light sources are small and bright. Maybe there are a few in the center of the ceiling, and a few in the corners of the room. Because they're too bright to look at, they need to be reflected and diffused with lamp shades and frosted glass.
OLEDs could overturn all that, with broad, diffuse light sources bathing rooms in a gentle glow. Photographers go to great lengths to diffuse the illumination they use when shooting portraits, because they know we look our best in soft light.
The big glowing sheets could also make light sources out of everyday things. GE imagines putting OLEDs on the inside of window blinds -- pull them down, light them up, and you have light streaming from the window, even at night. You could even make OLED wallpaper, since the material is flexible. (continued...)
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