‘Printable’ lights possible with organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology
It’s five p.m. on bone-cold weekday in February and the sun’s already departed. You want more “daylight”. You walk to your living room window, pull the blinds down, flip a switch. A pleasant, natural glow streams forth like a square, translucent sun. Thanks to organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), General Electric Corporation (GE) envisions this sci-fi like scenario in the near future.
To fast-track OLED technology into the mainstream, GE recently unveiled a machine that prints lights. Held in a sprawling research center in upstate New York, the OLED printer is as big as a semi-trailer (think: Optimus Prime spewing OLEDs instead of Energon Cubes). The machine coats an 8-inch plastic film with chemicals, then seals them with a layer of metal foil. The magic comes when you apply an electric current to directly to the flexible sheet: it glows a lulling blue-white. No lamps, no hard metal fixtures, no traditional bulbs – OLEDs just need to be plugged in.
The paper-like OLEDs can be tacked to a wall, wrapped around a pillar, even printed like wallpaper to sheath a bathroom in a glowing blue flower print.
Unlike incandescent bulbs that offer small and bright light sources, OLEDs create a broad, diffuse light that bathe a room in a gentle glow – the same flattering “soft light” that photographers try to re-create for portraits. OLEDs can be viewed directly unlike too-bright incandescents that require frosted glass or lamp shades. Efficiency-wise organic LEDs offer roughly the same energy-saving benefits of regular (inorganic) LEDs. However, current OLEDs are not as durable as LEDs – because of their sheet-like nature, OLEDs are gradually worn-out through use. Atmospheric oxygen exposure can destroy OLEDs’ plastic as well.
Consumer OLEDs is not wishful technology that is years away: they are already being used in high-end HD television displays and cell phone screens. Lawrence Gasman from Nanomarkets LLC, a research firm in Glen Allen, Va., projects that OLED lighting sales could reach $5.9 billion by 2015. Industry-wise, OLEDs can co-exist beside LEDs due to their diffuse lighting versus point light source nature, respectively, says Gasman.
The ultimate fantasy with OLED technology is video wallpaper. Remember that giant wall of video screens that Neo encountered at the end of the movie, The Matrix: Reloaded? Remember the staccato waves of shifting screens that rolled along your periphery vision like virtual dominos? Some day you can turn your entire living room into a Matrix Video Wall.
By blending high-resolution OLED displays with OLED light sources, video wallpaper would blur the lines between the practical and leisure, between architectural and entertainment-related OLED applications. And when not actively displaying high-resolution images, video wallpaper can create walls and ceilings that simply just glow.
Whether mimicking the sun or a video billboard, OLEDs in the future will undoubtedly be another nail in the dark coffin of Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulb.