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. LEDs might be able to soon bring such ideas to fruition.
The discovery of electroluminescence—the phenomenon of charged electrons releasing photon, which powers LED—dates all the way back to 1907 at Marconi Labs. Different colors were observed with the change in the voltage applied to it. With some dispute, the first practical LED was developed by Oleg Losev in 1927 but it would be others who developed it for commercial use. Widespread commercial use was kick started when Bob Biard and Gary Pittman filed a patent for the infrared light-emitting diode in 1962. This led to the release of the commercial model SNX-100, primarily intended for testing electronics but other uses would soon present themselves in other electronic devices, from televisions and digital clocks to common kitchen appliances. Development continued and by the 1990s the LED market had expanded considerably with improved range, reliability and efficiency
Once obscure, LEDs are now becoming a popular alternative to incandescent light bulbs, with the many types of LED lighting systems which provide greater efficiency and more adaptable form. One example of the LED's adaptability is in mimicking candlelight, increasing safety while accurately preserving the mood. The added control over the power usage adds to another benefit: the efficiency of an LED lighting control system, which is said to save 50% or more on energy costs. Another advantage over incandescents comes from the smaller carbon footprint of LED light fixtures as a result of its lower heat output and longer lifespan. LEDs can also be made as small as two millimeters with no adverse effect on the clarity of the light given off. As a result of these benefits, one can find LEDs almost everywhere today, in video displays, electronic billboards, aviation and marine lighting, vehicle lighting, optical communication, optical mice, barcode scanners, traffic signals, and scoreboards.
LEDs look to be expanding their usefulness and versatility even more in the future. An LED system is currently being developed which is called a flexible organic light emitting diode (FOLED) which makes use of thin (100 nm) flexible plastic films which enables the device to be bent or rolled while in operation. Groundbreaking inventions such as electronic paper and bendable displays, which will allow for greater durability and flexibility in mobile devices and video displays are already being designed with the FOLED's help. Other groundbreaking LED research is happening in labs by companies like Philips whose Lumalive products seek to seamlessly integrate light-emitting diodes into textiles, allowing for wearable LEDs and larger decorative room treatments. One of the first uses of LEDs was optical communication, so it is not surprising that LED will continue to expand high bandwidth communication options, referred to as LiFi. The technology may even help space exploration, with studies being conducted to judge the efficacy of LED lights in growing self-sustaining gardens aboard spacecraft.
Of course, the more fantastic benefits of LED light are not only confined to the future, but exist in the present as well. Lightfall by 3M, for example, uses what the have named "virtual LED" to permit a large space to be lit by a single LED. The bendable displays of the future have begun with products such as Osram's flexible waterproof coating which permit LEDs to be wrapped around corners and underwater. The enhanced color control through a clear polycarbonate resin in products offered by Laface and Mcgovern, Incorporated, such as LiniLED, builds on the flexible LED strip idea. Click this to learn 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.