What if you could have an entire room wallpapered in flexible, paper-thin light? Maybe you could even control that light’s color and intensity in different areas. That's the goal of General Electric researchers (disclosure: GE owns DVICE's parent company, NBC Universal), who just achieved a breakthrough toward making that possible. The key to making this affordable is roll-to-roll processing, a method of manufacturing organic LEDs (OLEDs) that works a whole lot like a printing press.
While GE’s breakthroughs in cost and efficiency are impressive, their engineers are the first to admit the technology is not quite practical yet. Working just a few miles from the Schenectady, New York lab in which Thomas Edison and his fellow researchers developed the first tungsten lighting elements that made the light bulb commercially viable is Anil Duggal, Advanced Technology Leader for Organic Electronics at GE Global Research. His goal: to create an entirely new kind of lighting for the 21st century. We talked to him about his work, the promise of OLEDs, and the timeline for bringing OLED lighting tech into the home.
These lights will also someday be able to create any color you desire. Duggal said, “We've proven that these things can be made color tunable, so that you can have different swatches of the room lit up in different colors. You can actually even make these things transparent, so you could even imagine putting it on a window.”
He's making progress with the efficiency of OLED light, too. The benchmark of the lighting industry is lumens per watt (lm/W), and this latest OLED created by a GE can emit 30 lm/W. That's twice as efficient as incandescent bulbs, which commonly run at around 15 lm/W.
Duggal wouldn't say exactly when luminous OLED wallpaper would be available, but he did say it would be sometime after 2010. However, by 2010, his team plans to release its first marketable product. They're not exactly sure what that product will be, or at what price point it will be released, but Duggal says it won’t be a bargain-basement kind of device, at least at first.
Duggal and his research team are working just a few feet away from the actual desk (pictured at right) of lighting pioneer Thomas Edison, and are making great leaps toward changing the world of lighting as we know it. Duggal couldn't say exactly when these world-changing wallpaper-like lighting fixtures would be available at your neighborhood Home Depot, but the future looks bright. If the results of this team of researchers are any indication, 10 years from now, light bulbs will be passé.