Andrew Powell, Senior Designer
Lighting Design Alliance
I was lucky enough recently to be invited to be a judge for the 2004 Lightfair New Product Showcase, and I can tell you that LEDs remain the 'hot technology,' if the number of new LEDs and LED luminaries submitted is any indication.
From what I saw, the output and color characteristics of the LED source continue to improve rather dramatically, and I would anticipate this trend to continue. This should open it up to ever more applications. Fixture manufacturers are just starting to tap into its potential. Will they become as commonplace as the incandescent light bulb? This is still unknown. It wasn't that long ago we were all wondering if fiber optics was the wave of the future. While that technology still holds promise, it didn't take off as some had predicted. The cost of energy and other economic factors will also weigh in greatly to answer this question.
Lastly, as to price point, I am optimistic on that issue as well. When a product truly becomes mainstream, prices fall dramatically. Look at wireless phones, computers, DVD players, etc. We are beginning to see this trend now with HDTVs. I can't wait to see where this little light source takes us.
Mitchell B. Kohn, Lighting Ddesigner
Mitchell B. Kohn Lighting Design
In an industry that seems none too quick to embrace new technology, every now and then something comes along to perk our fancy. The problem is often technologies are borrowed from other industries, but require refinement and application knowledge to become practical in today's lighting world. As long as the appreciation of lighting remains low on the public agenda, innovation will only stem from the opportunity for lower-cost hardware.
LEDs have been around a long time, yet, so far, the applications are somewhat limited to a costly, rather than a practical, way of introducing artificial light into the built environment.
Will this technology improve? Absolutely! Will it become a practical and affordable common light source? Cost, more than application will drive the answer to that question, and the energy spin may be the determining factor. I have recently seen new products that are actually white, and have controlled optics that have specific application advantages, but at a cost that will limit their use to situations where alternate solutions are not feasible as a result of other constraints. Commonplace and widespread in homes and offices? First we will have to see cost/benefit relationships that are more appealing than those thus far presented, or maybe even dreamed of. Then we have to see significant technology advances. I hope I live long enough, and this isn't just another media fad in an industry that usually has little innovation to get excited about.
Ken Douglas, Lighting Designer
While LEDs, particular color-changing LED products, are hot today-in some cases to the detriment of the projects they are used on-I do believe that they have the potential to become a major force in our industry. In just the last several years, we have seen this technology go from a curiosity to a standard tool in every lighting designer's toolbox. As the technology develops over the next several years, I anticipate that creative minds will find more and more uses for them.
We must keep in mind that LEDs are a highbred of a lighting product and a silicon chip. This combination of worlds brings the mindset and product expectations of the tech sector to a lighting product. It does not seem unreasonable to expect that LEDs will follow their own version of Moore's Law, increasing in brightness and whiteness at a rapid pace.
It is the challenge of a white LED, combined with price, that is keeping them out of general-purpose applications. Once an acceptable white LED is achieved, one of the major barriers holding back LEDs will fall. We have already seen LEDs displacing other light sources in the automotive industry, as well as some niche light sources in the architectural market. This trend will only accelerate once a reliable, stable and consistent white LED is manufactured. As for price, that is an issue that we have already seen begin to resolve itself over the last several years, as the price of some color-changing products has come down by 50 percent over their initial cost. This process should only accelerate as the products improve and demand increases.
Lastly, LEDs have energy efficiency working in their favor. As the cost of producing and delivering energy continues to rise, the push for more energy-efficient technologies will accelerate. With their long life (although not as long as originally advertised) and minimal energy consumption, LEDs have the potential to be integral to a designer's energy-efficient design responsibilities.
It is only a matter of time before LEDs displace more traditional, less energy-efficient and more maintenance-intensive sources.
Mark J. Cleaver, President
LED lighting technology is beginning to break into a whole new realm. If the current trend line continues, the next five to ten years will see a dramatic improvement in brightness and cost reduction. The key to success is going to be when light output intensity is sufficient enough to rival existing common light sources. This will be achieved through a combination of LEDs within application systems that maximize optical output.
A current approach, RGB, will be too expensive and troublesome. Using just white LEDs to replace bulbs will continue to have issues with lifetime, heat and color temperature. The laws of physics dictate white LEDs will have a difficult time overcoming these issues in their current form. Different, unique approaches are needed. iLight Technologies is introducing the next step in the LED lighting evolution-a process that achieves various white color temperatures. Yet the product will have the longer life and lower heat output associated with high-intensity blue LEDs. As these types of newer technologies are adopted by commercial and higher-end clients, they will eventually filter down to everyday home use as the cost drops. It's a typical Moore's law play on cost and performance. The cost of LEDs will decrease and brightness increase as LED die manufactures continue to aggressively attack quality and cost. The clock is ticking. It's just a matter of time.