OLED - A Totally New Kind of Light

The future glows. Metaphorically, to the optimists, but literally as well. When we step inside in a science fiction film, the room is often lit by soft, directionless light, probably streaming from a panel of some sort on the wall nearby. It might just be a movie, but the end effect is calming — no harsh shadows, no bright glare. There’s simply light where it’s needed.

Glowing walls might well be the actual future of lighting, too. A new technology called OLED, for organic light emitting diode, is delivering lights that mesh remarkably well with the sci-fi visions of yesterday. OLED’s come in a diversity of shapes but their real benefit is that they can be made almost paper-thin. The result? Actual glowing panels that can be hung on walls, integrated into strikingly trim lamps and lighting fixtures, or even curved around the surface of objects themselves.

It’s a bit of a reimagination of what a light is. Typically, we think of light as coming from bulbs — whether traditional incandescents, fluorescents or newer LED’s. But OLED’s are made of two electrodes with a layer of an organic compound between that luminesces in response to an electric current. The most noticeable result is that lights need no longer be a point source — an OLED can be manufactured as a strip or a rectangle that glows over its entire surface. It means that the lampshades and films used to disperse the light of other products are no longer necessary. The light is already soft and diffuse, and far more comfortable for our eyes. Combined with the fact that OLED’s are already thin, it equates to a light that takes up significantly less space.

OLED’s can also be built to be purposefully bendable. The organic compound will glow as long as it’s kept sandwiched between anode and cathode. Make those flexible and you’ve got a light that bends. The technology is already showing up in a new generation of bendable smartphones, and there are applications for interior lighting, too. Curved lights could conform to new surfaces, integrating into the architecture of a space in ways never before possible. OLED’s pliancy might even lead to them being used in glowing fabrics one day.

Like LED’s, OLED’s also far outshine traditional incandescents in efficiency and longevity, translating to lower costs once they’re in place. The organic compounds they’re composed of are environmentally-friendly, and their light spectrum is closer to natural sunlight than most other commercial light sources available. Finally, because the light is inherently soft, the lights can be placed much closer than other lights without risking glare, meaning less light is needed overall.

Though OLED technology is a bit newer than other forms of lighting, it’s an area that’s seen a ton of commercial interest recently. This means that the OLED space is full of innovation right now, leading to predicted further increases in efficiency and decreases in cost in the near future. The OLED market is on the rise, and we’ll probably begin seeing them in more, and more innovative spaces soon. Adorning the walls of houses, wrapping around the curve of a spiral staircase or even shimmering on the hem of an evening dress, the possibilities for creative interpretation are far more open than before.

This is one science fiction idea that’s almost certain to become reality.