Long term readers (it’s been all of two months, now!) may have noticed that I mention power consumption a lot. That’s because right now many of the obvious forms of digital light aren’t very power efficient. To be blunt, a world illuminated by modulated digital light could consume a lot more energy than today’s world of ordinary light. That’s a problem –a big problem. Can this be solved? (Warning…. this is a longer than normal post, and still just scratches the surface of this important topic.)
Yesterday, I posed the question “Why shouldn’t all light be possible to modulate?” and promised to explore where that might take us. Wayfinding is one example.
Wayfinding using digital displays is becoming pretty commonplace. But that just makes signs smarter — we get the information we need and then we move on. Wayfinding using the GPS in our smartphones isn’t much different. It’s handier because we have the phone with us and we can refer to it whenever we want. But just like the digital sign example, we get the information we need and we move on.
What if the lights around us could actually lead us where we want to go?
After all, there are a lot of light sources. Consider this jogger running at night. If the street lights could be modulated, then maybe the lights could brighten the path where she is running and reduce brightness everywhere else. Maybe the lights could also help her find her way. Street lights today can’t do this, but new generations of lights perhaps could if we thought about light in new ways.
This would make our streets safer. It would reduce light pollution.
It will require big advances in lowering the cost of modulating, steering, and controlling light. This sort of wayfinding wouldn’t need very high resolution, so that would help. Even so, the new generation of street lights would cost more than today but I think the benefits could be worth it.
It will also require advances in the energy efficiency of modulated light… but some interesting work in novel MEMS devices, ultra-miniature motors and (perhaps) holographic projection might make this possible.
(thanks to Kristina Foster for the animation)
I’ve commented several times that pixels won’t be everywhere unless power consumption significantly drops. David Haynes over at the sixteen:nine blog wrote an interesting article about energy consumption improvements in electronic billboards. The good news is that the industry claims a significant improvement (in part based on using them in smarter ways); the bad news is that energy consumption is still very high.