Paper With A Backlight

Poor ole’ Organic Light-Emitting-Diodes (OLEDs) have led a troubled life: they’re fighting with their cousins, the LED, for the efficiency crown; it’s fighting with LCD technology for use in electronic devices, like an OLED-based television; and the manufacturing processes behind OLEDs have, up until recently, been expensive and difficult to expand upon. Of course, if you had something as simple as an OLED printer, you could crank out as many as you wanted.

Oh, General Electric has recently unveiled an OLED printer, you say? With a machine that can print sheets of OLEDs at a time, companies like Phillips and Sony are starting to put their weight behind OLED-based products. When Sony unveiled a OLED-based flexible display at the 2008 CES, new realms of possibility were opened up. Cell phones with flexible screens, “unrollable” backlit displays, and sheet lighting all suddenly became possible.

The printer, itself, is a marvel. Housed in New York and packing the profile of a semi-trailer, it spits out 8-inch wide sheets of chemicals on a plastic and metallic sheet that light up when current is run across the film. As you can see above, it’s flexible, luminous, and shines with a beautiful blue-white glow. The next step is building a machine that can pump out feet upon feet of OLED sheeting, says head researcher Anil Duggal.

GE and other OLED manufacturers, like Osram Opto (a Siemens AG subsidiary that makes OLEDs for use in TV displays), are starting to find out, however, that a sheet-based approach is unlikely to replace the conventional incandescent light bulb or the fluorescent light socket in the near future.

Sheet lighting can be used to create new and unique fixtures and displays, but the durability of OLEDs are still in question, keeping many eager companies from making the initial investment. OLEDs wear out much quicker than a fluorescent bulb, and even the presence of atmospheric gases can cause the chemicals to deteriorate. Without addressing these problems, OLEDs may go the way of Indiglo watches.

Hopefully not; I’d love to have a display I can unroll to surf the Internet.


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