July 23, 2009

Philips Rolls Out Test Kits Of Experimental OLED Panels

Dutch electronics firm Philips is letting people experiment with a technology that would enable ceilings and walls to radiate light, illuminating indoor spaces as brightly and evenly as natural daylight.

Although widespread commercial viability of the technology is years away, Philips has started selling do-it-yourself kits with small glowing wafers known as "Lumiblades," which come in red, white, blue or green at a price of roughly $100 per square inch.

The kits offer the first opportunity outside a laboratory setting for people to get their hands on lights made from organic light emitting diodes, or OLEDs.

"We believe that OLEDs have a lot to offer in terms of design, in terms of its beauty, in terms of light effects," Dietrich Bertram, who heads Philips' OLED operations, told the Associated Press.

The world's largest lighting maker is working to get designers, architects and other creative people to begin thinking about applications for these flat lights, and to start collaborating on early products.

Siemens AG, General Electric Co. and Royal Philips Electronics NV are also developing OLEDs, believe the technology will ultimately be more efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs, energy-saving compact fluorescent lights and the LED lights just now hitting the market.

OLEDs have a distinct advantage in that they emit light evenly from an entire surface, versus a single point.  That does away with the need for lampshades and other traditional light coverings that scatter light and protect the eyes from glare.  The approach of creating light and then shading it is inefficient from an engineering perspective.

Philips said more than 100 of its Lumiblades kits have been sold since the company began offering them in April.  Buyers are primarily using them for prototyping, and intend to order larger numbers of customized OLEDs once they are ready to go to production.

Random International, a trio of British artists, used 1,024 Lumiblades to create an art installation called "You Fade to Light."  As visitors walk past the 9 feet high by 4.25 feet wide structure, a camera and computer turn off the lights on panels opposite the passers-by, imitating their motion like a giant monitor.

"Having worked with the OLEDs, I see it as far more of a material than a light source," Hannes Kochs, one of the structure's designers, told the AP.

The diffuse light thrown off by the OLED panels makes them "stunning, and utterly different" from other types of light, he added.

Lumiblades range in price from about $100 for a small square to $700 for a piece the size of a calculator -- the larger the square, the brighter the light.

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

When switched on, a tiny, microscopic layer of organic material inside starts emitting light, and the Lumiblade glows, with only the slightest hint of perceptible warmth.

The technology is nascent, and Philips isn't seeking accolades for its kits, which are sold online.   And the Lumiblades have to be plugged in, although battery-powered OLEDs are possible.

"All the contents of this experience kit are engineering samples only and do not comply with existing lighting and safety norms," read the manual included in the kit.

The company advises using a converter box and dimmers for an additional to ensure users don't "overdrive" their panels.  
Although OLEDs have no bulb to blow, cranking up the juice makes the lights burn brighter and wear out more rapidly.

When used at recommended levels, the lights in the kit are designed to last for 10,000 hours.  At that point they will have faded to half of their original intensity.  By comparison, the life span of an incandescent bulb is 1,000 hours for an incandescent bulb.  The  current generation of compact fluorescent lights has a comparable lifespan as the Lumiblades.

Philips says it envisions applications for artists, architects, jewelers and even some industrial uses where very even lighting is required.

Separately, Philips and others are collaborating with vehicle makers on using OLEDs in display panels and TVs with OLED-based displays are also on the horizon.

Ultimately, Philips hopes to market windowpanes that are transparent during the day but emit light at night.   For its part, GE, which is developing low-cost, flexible OLEDs encased in plastic, envisions a rollable, light-emitting window blind.

"I really want to see the sun rise on my ceiling, even if it's dark and rainy outside," said Bertram, speaking of his dream since he began working on OLEDs many years ago.


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