LED Lights Grow Smaller and Smarter

LED Carpet Rug

Grab a strand of hair from your head, and examine it.  Now imagine if that strand were 10,000 times thinner, and what you’ll be holding will be the equivalent size of future light emitting diode (LED) lights.  At the thickness of only three atoms, Scientists Xiaodong Xu and Jason Ross at the University of Washington have developed the thinnest possible LED lights.

LEDs have been around for many years, though only recently has their usage become widespread in exterior vehicle lighting, traffic lights, signs, seasonal and interior lighting.  LEDs create light by electroluminescence, which is the phenomenon of material emitting light when electricity passes through it.  Electroluminescence was discovered in 1907 independently by scientists H. J. Round and Oleg Losev. In addition to light-emitting applications, this technology could open doors for using light as “interconnects,” to run nano-scale computer chips instead of standard devices that operate off the movement of electrons, or electricity. The latter process creates a lot of heat and wastes power, whereas sending light through a chip to achieve the same purpose would be highly efficient.

As the size and price of LEDs decreases, new applications are arriving to the marketplace in the construction industry.  Lights can be more easily integrated directly into building materials such as paneling, moldings, ceiling tiles and even flexible carpets.  Some very interesting uses are being experimented with using portable rugs and carpets for children with neurological disorders such as autism. When affected children are experiencing extreme mood changes such as tantrums, multicolored LEDs can be activated within a carpet remotely to produce calming effects.  Cutting edge research is attempting to correlate the impact of light color and pulsation on brainwave activity.  Different patterns of light can also be used to evoke stimulating brain activity as well. One can only imagine what possibilities lay ahead in the medical arena.

In another more novel application, two global leaders in lighting and carpeting recently announced a partnership to develop “light transmissive carpets,” capable of turning floors into displays.  The key was to replace the traditional rubber carpet backing with something that could transmit light and stand up to the heavy wear and tear of foot traffic.  The result was a thin steel screen containing an array of ultrathin LEDs.

One of the first applications for the new floor covering will be for animated signage on the floors of airports, theaters, hotels and other public areas, not only to guide people to their destination but also to facilitate efficient evacuation in the case of an emergency.  From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the lighted carpet could not only enhance ambience but declutter busy areas making information visible only when it’s needed.  From there, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see it incorporated into interactive gaming technologies.

These new applications stretch the imagination and get us excited about the future but here at Thayer Corp we are integrating new LED features into buildings today. Unlike incandescent or fluorescent lights, LEDs have linear dimming characteristics, meaning that light levels and power consumption is directly proportional to the setting 0-100%.  Combined with Smart control features, we can program light levels to follow daylight patterns, time-of-day usage patterns, occupancy and security needs.  A wireless controller such as a smart phone, tablet or PC can be used to adjust programming.  In an occasionally used room, such as a conference room, light can be set at 5-10% levels yet immediately jump to 100% upon occupancy via integrated motion detection and return to the user selected unoccupied levels during normal working hours and completely off during unoccupied, non-working hours. The motion of forklifts in warehouses can immediately activate lighting without warm-up delays and return them to preprogrammed ambient light level minimums for life safety requirements once the activity passes.

We often forget the impact of after-hours housekeeping on energy consumption.  It’s quite normal for housekeeping to flip on all the lights for six to eight hours at night while a very small crew moves within large buildings cleaning. Smart controls could be programmed to allow the light to “follow” their movement, greatly reducing energy use without compromising their effectiveness or safety.

Parking lot lights can be dimmed to some preset level such as 30-40% after evening hours, yet immediately all come up to 100% the moment any motion is detected anywhere in the lot. Would-be vandals and burglars might be a bit startled!

Dimmability, smart controllability, and steadily declining prices are making LED lighting a more cost-effective choice while we wait for the more innovative and cutting-edge applications to become commercialized.  Ask our experts for an audit today and how you might qualify for incentives from Efficiency Maine.




Dan Thayer, P.E.