Visible progress

The first reports of the development of a fully functional light bulb date back to 1820. It would take another sixty years before Thomas Alva Edison was granted a basic patent for his improved light bulb on 27 January 1880. An interesting aspect: His model consisted of an evacuated glass tube with a carbon filament made of charred bamboo fibres.

That was a long time ago. The 20th century then followed, the era of the electron. The 21st century has already been called the era of the photon or “light particle”. Phototonics is a collective term for all optical technologies. It covers the development of devices and methods for using light to control large pieces of machinery or for processing data, with the light itself carrying information, transporting energy or acting as a tool. When correctly guided, photons – the “building blocks” of electromagnetic radiation – can be used to achieve surprising results.
Optical technologies are, for example, used in the CD and DVD drives of any computer. They turn our living room into a home cinema or concert hall. The secret: A laser beam scans a strongly reflective surface for microsignals. Processors calculate the corresponding data set from the reflection pattern.

LEDs (i.e. light-emitting diodes) are another story. When an electrical current is supplied, the electronic semiconductor elements light up in a specific way, showing, for example, the operating status of machinery. LEDs are gradually replacing conventional and halogen light bulbs, and are playing an increasingly important role in data transmission.

The next revolution on the lighting technology market is imminent: “organic light-emitting diodes”, or OLEDs, are waiting in the wings. OLEDs consist of synthetic materials that glow as soon as a low-level electrical current flows through them. These thin light tiles will make it possible to create entire room dividers and canopies made of light, as well as large and colourful mood environments.

The physical limits of OLEDs have not yet been reached by a long way. Visions of an ambience created by special illuminated wallpaper and a flexible OLED screen – as thin as a sheet of paper – will soon become reality.

Optical technologies: One of VCC’s investment markets.