Dezeen Magazine

"At night you won't switch on the ceiling lamp. You'll switch on the window."

Glowing walls, windows and furniture will replace light bulbs in homes as OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology improves, according to Dietmar Thomas of Philips Lumiblade (+ movie). Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.

"Just imagine windows where transparent OLEDs are integrated," says Thomas. "During the day the sun shines into the room and at night you're not switching on the ceiling lamp or the wall lamp, you're switching on the window."

The low working temperature of OLEDs - around 30 degrees centigrade - mean that lighting source can be integrated into furniture, Thomas says, and even painted onto walls.

"OLED will open up completely new ways where light can be introduced to the customer," Thomas says. "In the far future, say five or 10 years or so, you'll paint the wall with a colour with OLEDs mixed into it, so when you apply a current, the whole wall lights up."

Thomas spoke to Dezeen at the Lumiblade Creative Lab in Aachen, Germany, where we were invited to make a film about OLED technology and its future uses.

OLEDs generate light when electricity is passed through layers of organic semiconductor material mounted on glass.

"OLED is the first light source that is a surface light source," Thomas says. "All other lights sources are point light sources, starting with the flame, the candle and going up to the light bulb and the LED. For the first time you don't need a system to spread the light. The system is built in."

Today's OLEDs are less than 2mm thin and their maximum size is 12 x 12cm but in the near future they will be less than a millimetre thin and up to a metre square, Thomas predicts.

While today they are relatively expensive, prices are expected to fall dramatically: "I expect OLEDs to be in the mass market within the next five years, so everyone can buy OLED systems at IKEA," says Thomas.

Lumiblade is the brand name of Philips' OLED lighting products and the Lumiblade Creative Lab is used to introduce designers to OLEDs and help them develop innovative uses for the technology. Products on show at the lab include prototypes by Tom Dixon, Jason Bruges and rAndom International.

Other future uses for OLEDs include in cars, where their thinness compared to LED technology will allow car designers to provide more internal space or design shorter vehicles.

Designs developed at the Lumiblade Creative Lab include Mimosa, an interactive piece by Jason Bruges (above).

The music in the movie is a track called Mostly Always Right by 800xL. Listen to the track on Dezeen Music Project.

Here's some text from Philips Lumiblade about OLED technology:

OLED – The new Art of Light

OLEDs (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) represent the next step forward in the evolution of new light sources, generating light by semiconductors, rather than using a filament or gas. Like LED lighting, OLEDs provide illumination that is more energy-efficient, longer-lasting and more sustainable. It also opens exciting new doors to how we can use, integrate and ‘play’ with light for decorative, design and ambience creation purposes in our cities – in homes, offices, shops or hotels.

LEDs and OLEDs – the difference

A key difference is that OLEDs are created using organic semiconductors, while LEDs are built in crystals from an inorganic material. There are also visible differences between these two types of solid-state lighting. LEDs are glittering points of light – in essence, brilliant miniature bulbs. OLEDs, on the other hand, are extremely flat panels that evenly emit light over the complete surface. The illumination they produce is ‘calm’, more glowing and diffuse, and non-glaring.

The thin, flat nature of OLEDs also enables us to use and integrate light in ways that are impossible with any other light source. OLEDs will not replace LEDs – they have their own very specific and useful types of application. The two, however, complement each other very well, providing different options in a new era of digital lighting.

Leading the development and application of OLEDs

Philips was one of the first companies to make OLED lighting technology commercially available to architects and designers on a large scale through its Lumiblade OLED panels of different shapes, colors and structure, marketed under the name Philips Lumiblade. Furthermore, Philips’ Lumiblade Creative Lab in Aachen, Germany, gives lighting designers, luminaire manufacturers and creative minds the opportunity to get hands-on experience of OLED light as a material, and to partner with Philips in creating customized OLED solutions.

The company also has OLED product development facilities in Brazil and China, enabling close collaboration with architects and designers all over the world, and announced a EUR 40 million investment to expand production capacity at its facility in Aachen last year.

Capturing the beauty of light with OLED applications

In a highly competitive market, hotels, retailers and companies are constantly looking for ways to stand out from the crowd, as a distinct brand with a unique identity. Their image and identity are also communicated through the design and decoration of their shops, hotels or offices. Innovative lighting applications can play an important role in creating a unique ambience in these environments. Philips Lumiblade offers a range of such applications incorporating OLED lighting into eye catching products.

Philips’ LivingShapes interactive wall, the world’s largest OLED lighting installation that is commercially available today, consists of 72 OLED panels incorporating a total of 1,152 Lumiblade OLEDs. Each panel has a click-fit system, so customers can easily combine as many panels as they want, generating an interactive OLED installation within a few minutes. The installation is ideal for company headquarters, lounges, hotel lobbies or high- end residential constructions.

Philips will take interactive OLED lighting even further with the launch of the LivingShapes interactive mirror in 2012, shown for the first time at the LIGHTFAIR in Las Vegas. The interactive mirror is designed to enhance retail showrooms and enhance ambience in a hospitality setting.

Philips continues to lead the market in making OLED lighting brighter, larger and available for broader use with the introduction of its new high performance OLED Lumiblade GL350. The new OLED panel, shown for the first time in the US, offers an unprecedented combination of lumen output and size at an attractive price-performance ratio, making OLED lighting more viable than ever before for general lighting applications.

How OLEDs work

OLED lighting works by passing electricity through one or more incredibly thin layers of organic semiconductors. These layers are sandwiched between two electrodes – one positively charged and one negatively. The ‘sandwich’ is placed on a sheet of glass or other transparent material called a ‘substrate’.

When current is applied to the electrodes, they emit positively and negatively charged holes and electrons. These combine in the middle layer of the sandwich and create a brief, high-energy state called ‘excitation’. As this layer returns to its original, stable, ‘non-excited’ state, the energy flows evenly through the organic film, causing it to emit light. Using different materials in the organic films makes it possible for the OLEDs to emit different colored light.

The OLEDs currently available are mounted on glass. So far, glass is the only transparent substrate that sufficiently protects the material inside from the effects of moisture and air. However, scientists at Philips Research are investigating ways to make soft plastic substrates that will provide the necessary protection. This will open the way for bendable and moldable OLED lighting panels, making it possible for any surface area – flat or curved – to become a light source. We could see the development of luminous walls, curtains, ceilings and even furniture. Flexible OLED panels are likely to become available within 6 years.

Today, OLEDs generally have a reflective, mirror-like surface when not illuminated. Another current area of research is on the development of completely transparent OLEDs, which will open many new doors in application possibilities. Transparent OLED panels will be able to function as ordinary windows during the day, and light up after dark, either mimicking natural light, or providing attractive interior lighting. During the day, they could also function as privacy shields in homes or offices. Look out for transparent OLED panels within the next 2 years.

Product Performance (2012)

» up to 45 lm/W in different shades of white and RGB
» up to 4,000 cd/m2 brightness
» up to 15,000 hours lifetime (at 50% initial brightness)
» 1.8 mm thin
» <100 cm surface

As a rule of thumb: we expect the efficiency to double every 2-3 years.