I’ve blogged several times about wearable pixels as well as pixels for interior design and architecture.
But for the world to be a canvas for digital light, digital light must conform to the world as it is — a world of moving shapes and forms. Forms that bend, shift and stretch. Projected light does this, but it can be limited by ambient light, sight lines, the color of the surface, and projector positioning issues. Pixels from projected light are really reflected pixels.
But what if the digital canvas could directly emit light, not just reflect it? That would open up a huge number of ways to use digital light. Recently I posted about work at the University of Illinois-Urbana where electronic circuits, including circuits with LEDs, could be put directly on the surface of the skin and other flexible surfaces.
Now, we’ve learned about the work of Dr. Qibing Pei his team at UCLA. The picture shows a blue light emitting surface being stretched 45%. The stretching is reversible.
This is a really important step forward. So far, we’ve mostly seen bendable light, but those approaches were usually brittle –and bendable isn’t the same as stretchable. The UCLA team solved this by fabricating transparent electrodes that included single-walled conductive carbon nanotubes and polymer composite electrodes in an interpenetrating network of nanotubes and polymer. This created a combined electrode with low sheet resistance, high transparency, high compliance and low surface roughness. They sandwiched a light emitting plastic between two of these new electrodes, applied current, and created stretchable light.
The pictures show a single stretchable light emitting surface…essentially one pixel. But this is just the beginning. Image this scaled up into large numbers of tiny, colorful, controllable, malleable pixels.
It’s early days yet, but imagine this being applied to wall coverings, furniture, curtains, clothes. It all depends on how rugged, scalable –and of course inexpensive– this process will ultimately become. It’s no stretch (bad pun) to say this could be a big step forward to the pixels-everywhere future.
You can read the UCLA press release here.
Almost all displays are more-or-less two-dimensional –so many pixels in the ‘x’ dimension and so many in ‘y’. So-called 3D displays really aren’t 3D –the 3rd dimension is an illusion, created using a variety of
techniques including polarization switching, lenticular lenses, shuttered glasses, and so on.
But if pixels are really going to be everywhere, why should they be restricted to just two dimensions? They don’t, of course, and people are experimenting with this.
I was looking at hackaday.com recently and found this post about a 3D LED cube assembled by Brendan Vercoelen while he was a student at New Zealand’s Victoria University. His goal was to make a 16x16x16 matrix of red/green LEDs (4096 of them) but he stopped at 16x16x8. That’s still very impressive when you consider he built this by hand — each LED has 3 connections to it which meant he did a lot of soldering. The first video below is from his site.
Others (experimenters and companies) are also exploring this. For example, Instructables.com tells you how to build a less-ambitious version yourself ( see 2nd video further down this posting). Seekway in China seems to be selling something similar using layers of LED curtains (perhaps readers who know Chinese can comment more about what Seekway is doing).
Is this a practical 3D display? Probably not, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe it’s simply a new and different way of expression, one more part of the digital light future.
Yesterday, researchers at the University of Illinois-Urbana announced skin-like patches (here) that have electronic circuits on them and can be put directly on the surface of the skin. Here is an excerpt (emphasis added by me):
“The circuit bends, wrinkles, and stretches with the mechanical properties of skin. The researchers demonstrated their concept through a diverse array of electronic components mounted on a thin, rubbery substrate, including sensors, LEDs, transistors, radio frequency capacitors, wireless antennas, and conductive coils and solar cells for power.”
The announcement goes on to say:
“The technology can connect you to the physical world and the cyberworld in a very natural way that feels very comfortable.”
They emphasize medical applications, but I think this has big implications on the broader digital light/pixels everywhere future. For example:
- we’ll be able to put pixels all over our bodies. They’ll be almost part of us, not just projected onto us (see http://www.pixelizedlight.com/2011/07/pixels-everywhere-i-mean-all-over/) . Why? To reflect our mood, perhaps, or maybe as art or most likely just for fun.
- if this technology truly wrinkles, stretches and bends as well as the researchers claim, why restrict it to skin patches? Maybe this is a breakthrough that enables a big leap forward in highly flexible materials for
- fashion … think what Moritz Waldemeyer or Vega Wang could do with this (see: http://www.pixelizedlight.com/2011/07/wearable-pixels/)
- interior design… imagine LED enhanced curtains, furniture fabrics, and wall coverings …potentially taking what Kvadrat and Philips have done to a whole new level (see http://www.pixelizedlight.com/2011/07/big-beautiful-blurry-pixelized-walls/)
- architecture … the mind boggles at what architects could potentially do with flexible building material that illuminates and senses the environment.
Fun things to think about on a Friday afternoon! Maybe the pieces are falling into place for ‘pixels everywhere’. The world is going to be a canvas and you and I will be part of that canvas.
Oh no….are we approaching the digital light singularity … the pixelarity?
In early July, I posted about ‘wearable pixels“. The other day, I came across several kinds of sew-able pixels on the inventables.com website. Here’s a picture of one kind; there are more in the Inventables site.
It looks like you can’t control individual LEDs, but it would be cool if you could. Get out your sewing machines.
My friend Jordan Priede told me about a recent announcement from Philips about LED-illuminated wall coverings which they worked on with Kvadrat Soft Cells. Think of it as LED-illuminated wallpaper targeted at commercial spaces, and it could be a very important step toward the digital light future.
What they’ve done is embed addressable LEDs — I’m guessing pretty low resolution– into a semi-opaque wall covering. Now ordinarily low res LEDs look really awful, especially close up. All you normally would see close up are bright LED points of light that are way too bright– I certainly wouldn’t want them in a restaurant or lobby.
The clever thing with the Kvadrat/Philips product is that the fabric on the wallpaper blurs the LEDs. Conventional thinking is that blurring is bad, but in this case it makes the image look continuous. Contrast is low and it’s no good as-is for text, but it looks like it might actually work nicely for combining illumination with mood. The video below shows the idea better than the photos do.
If it’s as good as the photos and video in the announcement make it appear, this could actually be useful even in bright environments. This really is a kind of digital light. I’m sure it won’t be low-cost initially, but low resolution LED displays are dropping in price fast and that bodes well for this sort of application.
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.
The transition to Digital Light won’t be due to one technology alone. Instead, both projection technologies and direct-view technologies (like LED, OLED, LCD, electroluminescent, e-Ink, etc.) will be used. But for Digital Light to become truly commonplace, products will have to be inexpensive, long-lasting and energy-efficient.
That’s why I am excited about this press release from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering: http://www.imre.a-star.edu.sg/fckeditor/uploadfiles/Press%20Release_IMRE%20record%20breaking%20blue%20emitters%282%29.pdf (continue reading…)