Imagine the ability to change the color of your car or the walls of your house as easily as you might change the background of your Facebook page. Or maybe you would like your car to display your Twitter feed or Facebook page while you’re on the road. Such futuristic ideas may soon be made possible due to the versatility of the Light-Emitting Diode (LED).
Marconi Labs were the first to discover the process of electroluminescence which led to the creation of Light-Emitting Diodes. Different colors were observed with the change in the voltage applied to it. The first functional LED was created by Oleg Losev, a Russian inventor, in 1927, although it would take several more decades to develop a broad commercial use. It was in 1962 that developers for Texas Instruments filed for a patent of the first infrared type of LED. Intended primarily to be used in laboratories testing electronics, the usefulness of the little LED would branch out to many other areas, from toaster ovens to digital watches. As LED development progressed, their efficiency and reliability increased and so did the range of uses.
Today residential and commercial LED lighting is available for a variety of decorative light installations, produced to fit everything from floodlights to track lighting, sconces, troffers, chandeliers or even candles. Candles, for instance, can be mimicked by the subtlety of LEDs’ light quality, a major benefit to people sensitive to glare. Often a benefit as a result of this increased control of the light output is the much improved energy usage, up to 50% energy savings according to one study. LED light fixtures tend to be favored by the green (wind, solar energy, etc) movement over incandescents because of the former’s smaller carbon footprint. Size has little effect on the heat or quality of light produced and LEDs can be made as small as two millimeters. The many functions and benefits of LEDs have made these once fairly useless little lights into a ubiquitous part of modern society, seen everywhere from vehicle lights to traffic signals to personal computers, televisions, electronic billboards or barcode scanners.
In the coming century, it seems to be clear that LEDs will continue to alter and enhance our lives in even more fantastic ways. For instance, scientists are currently developing an LED system dubbed FOLED (flexible organic light-emitting diode) which applies the signal from LEDs to be applied to thin (100 nm) flexible plastic films that can carry a signal even when bent. Already, the FOLEDs are leading to amazing new uses for LEDs, such as electronic paper, rollable displays for lighter and more durable mobile devices and bendable displays which can be integrated into wallpaper or even a curved surface. A similar idea is being developed by laboratories such as Philips which would allow textiles to display LED signals, dubbed textile-based LED. Capable of power cycling millions of times per second makes LEDs quite suitable for high data bandwidth communication, likely to continue on into the future as “LiFi.” A sign of how useful LEDs have become, NASA has plans in the future to use the technology for safe mood regulators and light sources for plant growth, making gardens aboard space stations more productive and self-sufficient.
Still, here on Earth, LEDs continue to evolve in amazing ways. 3M is just one of the present day developers of LEDs, inventing Virtual LED, using a single LED to cover a large space for their Lightfall line of products. The bendable technology already exists in products like Osram’s flexible waterproof LED line which allows for displays to curve and wind with perfect clarity. Likewise, Organic Lighting Systems offers flexible LED strips but uses a trademark polycarbonate resin which they say enhances the control over color options even more. Whether on your computer or your car or even yourself, LEDs are turning up more and more places and it seems like this will only grow in the future.