Editorials

Still Plenty of LED/Lighting Breakthroughs Left

For many in the LED
industry who have watched, and lived, the steady march of technology for the last
decade, it’s pretty easy to get jaded about the technology. Not in a bad way,
but just a bored kind of one. "Let me guess," they say, "next year
we’ll be able to pack 15% more lumens in the same space, at 10% better efficacy
and 9% lower cost per lumen." The numbers vary from year to year, and person
to person, but it seems rather ho-hum at times. Admittedly, tech folks are thrill
junkies, and like the Red Bull addicts, the same dose over and over just won’t
do it. You need more than yesterday’s dose to get the same buzz.

Yes, there
are highlights (and milestones) that come to mind from year to year, but usually
not in the "base" technology, but rather from ancillary tracks of some
kind. Soraa was one of those when, a few years back, they announced their non-polar
GaN-on-GaN approach that allowed them to drive the heck out of their violet LEDs
without sacrifcing much in efficiency. Since violet is down there in a shorter
wavelength than the standard blue LEDs that make up most of our phosphor converted
approach to white lighting, it let them widen the spectrum down at the bottom,
hitting spots in that nearly near UV that halogens and sunlight down, which can
make for brighter brights and whiter whites (with the help of optical brightening
agents that makers of fabrics and paper and such have added for years). They made
the most of that advantage by fattening up the phosphor spectrum a bit, and producing
very nice looking light. They don’t boast much about the raw efficiency, both
because better quality of light comes as a bit of a tradeoff that way, but also
because they aimed to better the more compact halogens, such as MR16’s, and 15
lumens per watt isn’t really hard to beat. Soundly. An interesting breakthrough.

We
saw a significant milestone a week or so ago when Shuji Nakamura (a co-founder
of Soraa) was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in creating a mass-produceable
blue LED. The prize is shared with Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University and Nagoya
University, Japan, and Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University. Really quite cool,
since the invention itself is not all that remarkable… a little chunk of material
that glows blue, and not an terribly complex set of parts that let humans fly
through the air, or someting. Much like the computer chip really first showed
up in something as ordinary as calculators, don’t be surprised if we look back
in a few decades and recognize that while the airplane changed a lot, like the
humble microprocessor did before it, the blue (and white, and color-adaptable)
LEDs that enabled our world of solid state lighting, ended up changing almost
everything in and around our built spaces.

Which leads to our headline up
there contending that there are still plenty of breakthroughs left. OLEDs have
just scratched the surface of their capabilities to do stuff. We’re not big proponents
that they’re the way will do lighting in the near future, but the can do some
pretty neat tricks when it comes to display technologies, or the ability to put
light and color where it really couldn’t be before. When they really do become
printable and maybe even paintable, why struggle at the paint store to find the
perfect mix of colors, when you can just spin the wall color knob?

Some
news this week from Osram suggested there are still impressive leaps going on
as they showcased a single chip solution that could deliver enough lumen output
to create a automobile headlight that was the size of a box of matches (which
we see fewer and fewer of these days, so how about we say it’s about the size
of the key fob on that same car…). We promise that we’re not far off from seeing
headlights that "watch and think", making use of sensors, MEMS and/or
adaptive optics to aim our headlights the right way, and brighten and dim them
to accomodate oncoming traffic.

And then there’s the whole Internet of Things.
The IoT sounds a bit hippie ("everything will talk to everything and will
all play happily together in the sandbox of life, man…") but it’s real,
and will make the cool things we do with our smart phones today look like baby
stuff. At least until we get used to our car doors, and house doors, and office
doors all opening just for us, with our lights adjusting to us just before we
walk in a room, and our TVs or iMusic dialing itself to exactly what we want,
exactly when we would have wanted it. The fridge will inventory what goes in and
out, and suggest shopping lists that we’ll edit and approve with hand waves in
the air, and the stuff will just show up. But when we stop to think about it,
a few of us will notice that the lights in our ceilings have turned out to be
the hosts for a lot of the devices that watch and measure and protect us, and
we’ll realize that it was all because of some sharp, hard-working folks at Bell
Labs that figured out you could get blue light out of a chunk of gallium, and
some other sharp, hard-working folks in Japan that kept at their crystal growth
processes and epitaxial reactors, over and over again, until they got a material
that made a blue LED that could make a pretty decent amount of light. And it was
efficient, and it got better, and we put them in all our spaces, and they watch
us and serve us (and hopefully don’t take over at some point).

We should
stay impressed.

Another Breakthrough from Veeco  - Introducing the EPIK700 MOCVD

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