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Wanted: bright ideas for new organic lights

In the future, our homes may be lighted not by bulbs, but by light emanating in natural colors from luminous walls, windows and ceilings. Kristin Knappstein, a Philips employee, plays with an art installation made of flat panel lights.

Associated Press

In the future, our homes may be lighted not by bulbs, but by light emanating in natural colors from luminous walls, windows and ceilings. Kristin Knappstein, a Philips employee, plays with an art installation made of flat panel lights.

AACHEN, Germany — Someday, our ceilings and walls might radiate light, illuminating indoor spaces as brightly and evenly as natural daylight.

Though that possibility remains years off, the Dutch electronics company Philips is letting people tinker with the technology that would enable it.

The world's biggest lighting maker has begun selling do-it-yourself kits with little glowing wafers called Lumiblades. They come in red, white, blue or green for anyone who wants to pay nearly $100 per square inch.

It's one of the first chances people outside research labs have had to get their hands on lights made from organic light emitting diodes, or OLEDs.

The company's aim is to get designers, architects and other creative types thinking about how these flat lights can be used, and to start collaborating on early products.

General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Royal Philips Electronics NV, which are developing OLEDs, believe the technology will eventually be more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, energy-saving compact fluorescent lights and even the LED lights just now reaching the market.

For now, the Lumiblades are just small, flat lights — interesting in and of themselves.

"We believe that OLEDs have a lot to offer in terms of design, in terms of its beauty, in terms of light effects," said Dietrich Bertram, who heads Philips' OLED operations in Aachen, just across the border from Philips' home country, the Netherlands.

Random International, a trio of London-based artists, used 1,024 Lumiblades to make an art installation called You Fade to Light. As people walk past the structure, which is 9 feet wide and 4 1/4 feet high, a camera and computer turn off the lights on panels opposite the passersby, mimicking their motion.

"Having worked with the OLEDs, I see it as far more of a material than a light source," said Hannes Kochs, one of the installation's designers. The diffuse light cast by the OLED panels makes them "stunning, and utterly different" from other kinds of light, he said.

Lumiblades run from about $100 for a small square to $700 for a piece the size of a mobile phone. The bigger the piece, the brighter it is.

When switched off, Lumiblades resemble small mirrors, with an aluminum backing inside two glass plates.

When switched on, a microscopic layer of organic material inside begins to emit light, and the Lumiblade glows. Only the faintest hint of warmth is perceptible.

When used at recommended currents, the lights in the kit are designed to last for 10,000 hours, at which point they will have faded to half of their original brightness. That compares with a life span of 1,000 hours for an incandescent bulb, and is about the same as the current generation of compact fluorescent lights.

The company says it sees interest from artists, architects and jewelers. Philips and other companies are working with vehicle makers on using OLEDs in display panels, where their thinness and coolness would be valuable. Televisions with OLED displays are also emerging.

Philips eventually hopes to market window panes that are transparent during the day and emit light at night.

Fast facts

No more shades?

OLEDs, or organic light emitting diodes, emit light evenly from a whole surface, rather than a single point. That eliminates the need for lamp shades and other coverings that scatter light and protect eyes from glare. Creating light and then immediately shading it is an inefficient way of doing things, from an engineering and energy-use standpoint.

Wanted: bright ideas for new organic lights 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 9:17pm]
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