Light bulbs are so last century. That's why GE and Konica Minolta Holdings say they'll be coming to market in a few years with a new light source you can bend, fold and mutilate while it's illuminating a workspace or an entire room. The lighting is based on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, the same material Sony just introduced in flat- screen TVs.
Lighting is harder, says GE project manager Anil Duggal. The challenge has been in getting the wafer-thin materials (which still require a plug or battery) bright and long-lasting enough to be affordable. Konica and GE joined forces because each was working on a different OLED technology. GE's uses conventional printing presses to print the OLED material on sheets of film and is cheaper to produce. Konica was perfecting a method in which OLED material is evaporated onto a sheet of film; the resulting lights are brighter and last longer.
The first product from GE-Konica will likely be a glowing wall that could be used in a bar or trendy shop, or perhaps for architectural highlights. Eventually, the companies would like to replace most traditional home lighting with OLED, which could be cheaper and more energy efficient than the fluorescents so popular in green movements now.
But it's OLED's other properties that excite GE and Konica. They say their material can be wrapped around an object, punched with holes and woven into fabric. Someday soon, not only may your tabletop or lampshade glow—so, too, may your hat, shirt or gloves.