LEDs no longer are just light bulbs. They’re now starting to appear as a built-in feature for ceilings – an advance predicted 50 years ago by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.
These tiny light-emitting diodes, often touted as the ultra-efficient replacement for old-fashioned incandescents, are being integrated into clothes, carpets and ceilings the same way that some solar panels have been tucked into rooftop shingles.
The OneSpace luminous ceiling, by lighting company Philips, makes its debut at the Light + Building trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany. It uses LEDs packed tightly in a mesh, combined with textile, to create an ultra-thin, sound-absorbing panel that offers homogeneous light with no exterior fixtures.
Amid a plethora of new LED products, several companies including General Electric have introduced ceiling panels with built-in LEDs. Yet OneSpace comes in custom-made sizes so large – as much as 10 feet by 33 feet – that it can cover an entire ceiling.
“Philips takes the idea one step further” to offer a seamless ceiling, says Terry McGowan, director of engineering at the American Lighting Association, an industry group.
“This innovation will redefine how light can be used in architecture and design,” says AntoonMartensPhilips’ general manager of “large luminous surfaces.” He says OneSpace, intended for commercial settings such as car showrooms and airports, will cost about $191 per square foot. He said the panels can be hoisted down for maintenance, but given the long life of LEDs, he expects businesses will redecorate before the bulbs need replacement.
Asimov foresaw such a ceiling in a 1964 New York Times article on the technology of the future. “By 2014,” he wrote, “electroluminescent panels will be in common use, and ceilings and walls will glow softly.”
LEDs have been around for decades, but their popularity has soared in recent years as their prices have plummeted, their options have expanded and the U.S. government’s phaseout of inefficient incandescents continues. Thomas Edison-era incandescents use far more energy to produce light than LEDs and typically last about a year. LEDs, though their upfront costs are much higher, can last a decade.
Lighting companies have introduced LED replacements for the traditional screw-in bulbs that have been phased out, including the 40-watt, 60-watt, 75-watt and now the 100-watt incandescent. In March, Cree unveiled its latest – a $20 replacement for the 100-watt incandescent that produces the same amount of light while consuming just 18 watts.
These LED replacements are “marvels of engineering even though they look like standard light bulbs,” McGowan says, noting their superior energy efficiency. He says LEDs offer endless possibilities, especially the newer “organic” or OLEDs that are made with carbon-based chemicals rather than metals. “You can put them into practically anything.”
Philips has experimented with putting LEDs into clothing and in November, it announced it’s working with carpet maker Desso to develop a carpet that contains LEDs in its fibers. Such carpeting could be used by theaters to guide moviegoers to their seats or by airports to guide travelers to their departure gates.
Philips is also beefing up its own LED bulbs, which include the wireless “hue” that was launched in 2012. Via iPhone apps, the “hue” can be remotely turned on or off, dimmed or changed in color. Apple sells individual $60 bulbs and kits that include the “hue bridge,” which plugs into a home’s WiFi router and enables the remote access.
“We’ve been blown away with the response to ‘hue,’ “ says its creator, George Yianni, adding that the company sold its anticipated first-year volume within a few days. He says Philips was surprised by how creatively “hue” has been used, from spooky Halloween settings to lighting a house in blue when a newborn resident is a boy.
This summer, Philips plans to start selling the “hue tap” – a round physical switch for operating the bulbs when a smartphone isn’t handy – and “hue lux” – white-only bulbs. It’s also unveiling new 3-D-printed smart table lamps and pendants.
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