Since April of 2016, glass company Corning has been working with OLEDWorks. In the first demonstration of what the companies could do together, they unveiled a curved OLED panel. The physically flexible OLED panel uses Corning’s bendable glass known as WillowGlass and the OLED technology from OLEDWorks. Since that time, Corning and OLEDWorks have continued their partnership. And apparently, the technology has improved.
I got to speak with Dipak Chowdhury, VP of OLED lighting at Corning. He explained how Corning made WillowGlass flexible. He gave the example of a piece of rigid aluminum. If you make it thin enough you can bend it. The same is apparently true for glass as well. “We just made it thinner, as it becomes thinner and thinner it becomes more flexible,” Dipak said.
What is the use of curved OLED Light?
“What is the use of curved OLED light?” was one of the questions that came to mind when I interviewed Dipak. His answer opened my mind up to design possibilities that I had never thought of before.
He pointed out that a lot of money is spent making the external appearance of lights curved and trying to hide the light sources to make the overall appearance more aesthetically pleasing while preventing glare. Dipak said that while early LED lights were made to look like the lights we were familiar with, incandescent bulbs, more recent LED lights are not constrained by trying to look like bulbs.
He pointed out that early LED holiday lights come in a bendable tube that you can do anything with. However, you can still see each individual light on the string. Such LED light strings can be bent around virtually any objects and can emphasize architectural features in rooms and on buildings.
On the other hand, OLEDs can conform to flat surfaces and do not require a diffuser to prevent glare.
What if you could combine the flexibility of an LED string with the flatness of an OLED panel?
According to Dipak, this capability would allow designers to make lights into many of the more desirable curved shapes of conventional lighting without having to waste light and electricity diffusing it. He hinted at the design potential of flexible OLED lights, “Here you already have a light that is distributed along a surface so you don’t have glare.”
What can you do with light that can curve?
I started trying to think, what could do with light that could curve around things?
Dipak said, “When you have something that is thin and light you can easily incorporate into building materials or surfaces. It doesn’t need any extra space. “
After the interview, I looked around the room and began to notice a few curves that played a prominent role in the architecture. The crown molding, a rectangular picture frame with a curved structure. I also saw, of course, LED bulbs, surrounded by three cone-shaped light diffusers hanging below a ceiling fan. Then later as I walked into the bathroom, I noticed the toilet seat.
Crown molding, a picture frame, conventional light diffusers, even a toilet seat could theoretically be made into lighting!!!?
Maybe he’s onto something!
In related news, the U.S. Department of Energy just awarded OLEDWorks an SBIR/STTR grant to develop an ultra-thin, and very efficient curved OLED light engine!