Bright New Ideas in LED Lighting
Tom Lombardo posted on June 28, 2015 |

LED light bulbs are much more efficient and longer lasting than their incandescent counterparts, but without all the “baggage” of compact fluorescent lights. LEDs don’t contain mercury, they reach full brightness instantly, and they have a more pleasing color spectrum than CFLs. Although LEDs haven’t completely taken over the market, it’s just a matter of time before they do. Let’s take a look at some recent innovations in the world of LEDs.

Which LED Light?

One problem with new lighting technology is that the average consumer can easily become overwhelmed with terminology while sorting through the options. Use terms like efficacy, color temperature, and lumens around a non-techie (i.e. a normal person) and you’ll quickly see their eyes glaze over with a combination of boredom and confusion. “I just want a 60 watt replacement bulb, okay?”

Fear not, my non-technical friends, because there’s a website that can help you choose the exact LED bulb to meet your needs: Which LED Light was designed to help anyone - technical or not - sort through the multitude of lighting options. From the home page, a user can select “I’m not sure what I need” and the bulb finder will walk you through the choices, one step at a time:

After making the selections, the user is presented with a list of options that meet the selected criteria. The list includes direct links to retailers as well as the cost of the bulb and the amount of money the consumer will save in electricity costs by switching from incandescent to that particular LED bulb. The bulb description includes color temperature in Kelvins, but also uses the consumer-friendly terms like “warm white,” “natural white,” and “daylight white.”

Although the site is designed for users in the United Kingdom, the rest of the world can use the selector to find the correct make and model, and then purchase it locally or from an online retailer.

For the consumer seeking enlightenment, there’s an LED Bulb Education section that explains lighting terminology in plain English.

But the site isn’t strictly for non-geeks. Those of us who understand the lingo of luminosity can click “I know what I need” and go directly to the product selector page, which includes drop-down menus to choose various options such as bulb type, replacement wattage, color temperature, beam angle, dimmability, and brand.

Images courtesy of Which LED Light

Images courtesy of Which LED Light

With more smart appliances coming around, consumers will need these kinds of selection tools to help them choose the technology that works best for their situations. This will require engineers and technical writers who can communicate high-tech ideas to both technical and non-technical audiences. (If my students are reading this, that’s why we make you take writing courses!)  

Set the Controls for the Hue of the Sun

I have a pair of table lamps in my living room, both outfitted with LED bulbs - but they’re different bulbs. In one lamp I have a warm white bulb, and in the other I have a natural daylight bulb. Why the difference? It’s all about the Sun.

Sunlight that reaches the Earth’s surface varies in hue throughout the day, due to the different amount of atmosphere that the light passes through on its way to the ground. That’s why the sky appears reddish (“warm white”) at sunrise and sunset while looking blue (“natural daylight”) closer to midday. Our bodies have adapted these changes into our circadian rhythms, which affect our productivity and sleep patterns. Warm white is more relaxing, while cool white (or “natural daylight”) improves alertness. Since my living room is where we relax, I want a warm white bulb in there. But it’s also where we often read, an activity that lends itself well to natural daylight, so my other lamp has a cool white bulb in it. The two-bulb setup works in my living room since I have two table lamps, but a better solution would be one light bulb that can vary its color temperature. Several of these already exist, such as the Hue, the Alba, and the LIFX, but they all need a smartphone app in order to control their behavior. Upstart company Saffron hopes to change that with its new product, the Silk light bulb, which automatically adjusts its color output based on the time of day, approximating the natural colors of sunlight.

In addition to its preprogrammed mode, customers can also program their own schedules and presets using an app, much like the other multi-hue bulbs on the market. But what’s unique about the Silk is that quick adjustments can be made without reaching for a tablet or smartphone. The Silk lets users change the color output by flicking the normal on-off switch a few times.

Images courtesy of Saffron

Images courtesy of Saffron

The Silk starter kit includes three bulbs plus a WiFi bridge that connects the bulbs to your home network. For more information, see their Kickstarter page.

Stay Cool

More on the nuts-and-bolts side of things, Litecool has developed a vertical dielectric packaging concept that improves heat transfer, allowing the LED bulb to run cooler. An LED bulb consists of many LEDs mounted to a dielectric substrate which electrically separates each LED from its neighbors. Electrical insulators generally don’t conduct heat very well, so the dielectric gets warm and doesn’t dissipate the heat, which ultimately reduces the life of the LEDs.

Ceramic is one material that dissipates heat well and works as an electrical insulator too, so it’s the common material used for LED dielectrics. But ceramic is pricey and doesn’t dissipate heat as well as metal. The patent pending vertical dielectric method allows the manufacturer to pack more LEDs into the same space, letting the metal conductors dissipate all the heat rather than forcing the dielectric to serve a double duty. This not only keeps the chip cooler, it also lets engineers use less expensive polymer dielectrics instead of the more costly ceramics.

Image courtesy of Litecool

Image courtesy of Litecool

The Future’s So Bright…

Electric lighting technology was virtually unchanged during the first century of its existence, but the past decade has brought numerous innovations to the market. As the sun sets on ancient incandescents and fluorescents, a new day begins for modern, efficient, and intelligent lighting technology. The once stagnant industry is now moving forward … at the speed of light.

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