Someday, with a click, you could change the color of your walls or your house. Or maybe you would like your car to display your Twitter feed or Facebook page while you're on the road. These things may not be too far in the future, thanks to the Light-Emitting Diode (LED).
The action behind the light-emitting diode (LED) is called electroluminescence, a phenomenon first discovered at the European Marconi Labs in 1907. In correspondence to the energy band gap, the semiconductor was observed to emit light of different colors depending on the voltage of the current applied. Historians name Oleg Losev, a Russian inventor, as the first to develop what we call an LED today, but widespread commercial use was limited in 1927. This occurred in the summer of 1962, when James "Bob" Biard and Gary Pittman of Texas Instruments filed a patent for the infrared (IR) light-emitting diode which was the first modern LED. 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 interior lights which provide greater efficiency and more adaptable form. Candles, for instance, can be mimicked by the subtlety of LEDs' light quality, a major benefit to people sensitive to glare. Often a benefit as a result of this increased control of the light output is the much improved energy usage, up to 50% energy savings according to one study. 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. The ratio of efficiency compared to an LED's relative shape and size, which can be as small as 2mm, presents another advantage over traditional incandescent light bulbs or tubes. The many functions and benefits of LEDs have made these once fairly useless little lights into a ubiquitous part of modern society, seen everywhere from vehicle lights to traffic signals to personal computers, televisions, electronic billboards or barcode scanners.
In the coming century, it seems to be clear that LEDs will continue to alter and enhance our lives in even more fantastic ways. The flexible organic light-emitting diode (FOLED), for example, allows a signal to be displayed on a plastic film only nanometers thick, without loss in clarity. Already, the FOLEDs are leading to amazing new uses for LEDs, such as electronic paper, rollable displays for lighter and more durable mobile devices and bendable displays which can be integrated into wallpaper or even a curved surface. In the Netherlands, Philips have been working on a similar concept, textile-based LED (Lumalive), which would enable clothing and large decorative panels to react as LED does. Capable of power cycling millions of times per second makes LEDs quite suitable for high data bandwidth communication, likely to continue on into the future 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. 3M has developed a means, for instance, to allow a single LED to cover a large space, which they have named "Virtual 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. Likewise, Laface and Mcgovern Associates offers flexible LED strips but uses a trademark polycarbonate resin which they say enhances the control over color options even more. Follow this link to learn more. With all that's happening now and all that is planned for the future, LEDs are sure to be turning up in a lot more places—maybe even on your living room walls.