It would have been hard for Thomas Edison to predict how much the light bulb would revolutionise the way we use energy.No longer having to huddle around gas and oil lanterns were welcomed benefits, but today they form only the tip of the iceberg: the invention has led to changes in building design and the length of the workday. It even sparked the creation of entirely new industries.
Since then, scientists and engineers have continuously tried to improve the way we light our homes and offices. In the 1900s, energy shortages led to the use of fluorescents. In recent times, new inventions and re-imaginings have come from the desire to improve affordability and efficiency.
So, what is the next 'bright idea in light'? According to the CSIRO, it is organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), an emerging technology that delivers bright, thin and highly efficient displays with great colour purity.
OLEDs work by taking an organic material, either small molecules or polymers, and sandwiching them between two electrodes. The application of a voltage across the electrodes generates light.
The colour of the light can be tuned by changing the chemical structure of the emitting compounds.
To showcase the potential of the technology, Australian designer Andy Zhou has worked with the organisation’s flexible electronic researchers to create a flexible OLED luminaire.
The Plus Pendant light was developed by Zhou as a final year project for his industrial design degree at Monash University, and will hit the world stage in the coming month as part of the Melbourne Movement stand at the Milan Design festival.
Utilising 36 rigid OLED panels, the pendant shows off the technology’s thin profile and flexibility.
The frame can be flexed up and down manually or automatically, changing the characteristics of the light with each setting, transforming from an area light to a spot light. This unseen mechanism is achieved via the use of magnets and tensile wiring.
The fabric cover of the Plus Pendant is manufactured by a process called 3D CNC Knitting, which uses white polyester and grey wool thread to create a seamless textile in a single piece. Timber components found on the central column are century-old recycled timber sourced from the original Princes Pier in Port Melbourne, Australia.
CSIRO's flexible electronics team is currently developing the materials and processes to enable the low-cost manufacture of flexible electronic technologies such as displays, lighting and solar cells.
Images: Andy Zhou