Lightly Hikari: Ultra-thin Planar LED Light Sources inspired from a Parallel Universe

Once considered the rising star of the lighting world, OLED has contributed more to elevating lighting design to an art form than any other single component. A recent article in LED professional Review explores the advantages and disadvantages of OLED lighting technology, and a potential successor that recently arrived to carry on the ultra-thin design movement that it has inspired: the Lightly Hikari SQ. Following previous mentions about the Hikari LED modules elsewhere on this blog, in this post we unveil the new technology in more detail, especially in its relation to OLED. Why is OLED not more prolific? And what does the arrival of Lightly Hikari SQ mean to it?

OLED – Arrival and Struggles

When OLED appeared on market back in 2012, the vision, as with any emerging tech, was to enable mainstream adoption of the technology over time as the price decreased and performance improved. Global market leaders saw the potential for OLED technology to be used across a range of lighting applications. While planar lighting was not new, in contrast to the high-intensity, point light source of LEDs, OLED modules produce a native surface light source. This makes OLED ideal for diffuse, low-glare lighting designs; a more sophisticated, ultra-thin alternative to LED.

Image by Konica Minolta of a high end OLED application
Planar Lighting: OLED. Image courtesy of Konica Minolta.

The ultra-thin profile of OLED modules has been used to great effect in creating unique luminaire designs where the light source is a design feature in itself. Equally, the flat surface of OLED modules offers the additional benefit of creating the appearance of a recessed light source when surface mounted without the need for the same level of structural integration more commonly associated with traditional recessed light fixtures.

OLED has also enabled the development of new styles and applications for automotive and aviation lighting where reduced volume and mass is a benefit and new technology is seen as a valuable differentiator between competing brands. In addition, mirror reflective surfaces in the off state, transparent in the off state and flexibility were all possibilities that added to the excitement around the great potential for this new technology. Despite OLED’s aesthetic virtues, the technology has struggled to achieve the optical performance, lifetime and commercial viability of LED;

LED vs. OLED: The Competitive Edge

High production costs and inferior performance, when compared to LED technology, have resulted in a cost per lumen that, to this day, remains an order of magnitude greater than its LED equivalent. As a consequence, the application of OLED technology in lighting design has been largely limited to art installations and prestige luminaires where cost and performance are less critical considerations than the visual impact and exceptional design that OLED enables.

By 2017 Philips and Osram had divested their OLED R&D business units. More recently the closure of LG Display’s OLED lighting division has left OLEDworks as one of the few remaining companies pursuing decorative lighting applications. This raises the question about the future of OLED and if there is a practicable substitute on the horizon.

Image with table of comparison LED vs OLED efficiency Hikari SQ
OLED vs. LED comparison – Source: Lightly Technologies

Inspiration from a Parallel Universe

While OLED’s runway as a light source may be coming to an end, the designs that it inspired have left an indelible mark on the lighting industry. From OLED, a new style was born. It opened up an opportunity for a new tech solution to fill; an ultra-thin light source that did not compromise on performance. The Japanese art of chindōgu involves combining products that are completely unrelated to create inventions that are wonderfully unusual. A convergence of ideas from two parallel universes; smartphones and lighting design, inspired a journey to create an ultra-thin light source with the performance, manufacturing and commercial advantages of LED while maintaining aesthetic qualities that, until now, were limited to OLED lighting designs.

A paradigm shift was needed in how the OLED module appearance and form factor was created, as the desire was for ultra-thin surface light sources, not necessarily for a light source that uses OLED technology. Finally, the solution to OLED’s stagnation was found in its predecessor, LED. The market interest had been created by the OLED manufacturers, but this did not mean that OLED was the right technology for the commercialization of ultra-thin light sources.

An outlay of the first Hikari SQ product module with an optimum balance of light output and visual comfort and low glare. Image courtesy of Lightly Technologies.

The engineering skills gained at Philips Lighting and inspired by advanced smartphone display technologies at Apple combined with a determination to deliver a commercially viable and functional solution led to the development of an ultra-thin light source with the performance, manufacturing and commercial advantages of LED.

Reviving the OLED Vision

One of the core ambitions in the development of this technology was to broaden the potential applications for ultrathin lighting. While OLED lighting had its foundations in decorative luminaires, the opportunity for the new product was to achieve a functional light output that delivered useable lux levels on the working surface.

Lightly Hikari has arrived – A modern elegant surface light, ultra-thin, but with the performance benefits that can only be found in LED.

The first Hikari SQ product generation produces up to 450 lm from a 100×100 mm module with an optimum balance of light output and visual comfort and low glare. This lumen density has opened up new applications for ultrathin lighting designs such as open-plan office lighting and functional hospitality lighting.

Ultra-thin Surface Light Sources

This new technology fulfills the promise of OLED by enabling unique, visually impactful lighting designs while at the same time providing functional levels of light. This combination of functionality and form has already captured the imagination of the automotive and aviation industries along with the more traditional hospitality and residential lighting applications.

Lightly Hikari Benefits & Opportunities

The arrival of the ultra-flat yet powerful Lightly Hikari modules offer general lighting segments a different way of approaching design and a way to overcome the inconveniences of applied OLED technology:

• Manufacturers of lighting systems can upgrade existing product lines with high performance, commercially viable, ultra-thin lighting engine;

• The industry can benefit from a lightweight, uniform surface of light for interior and exterior lighting products;

• Decorative and architectural lighting designers enjoy maximum creative freedom without having to compromise on form or function.

Image by GavriiLux showing
Lightly Hikari is an ultra-thin, lightweight, uniform surface of light for interior and exterior lighting products. Photography: Gavriil Papadiotis | www.gavriilux.com

Conclusion

The OLED technology is an exciting feat of engineering. As the technology has industrialized over the last 10 years it has enabled thinner display panels, richer colors and deeper contrast. In the Lighting industry, OLED has created an awareness of the opportunities for ultra-thin, surface light sources, with both the design freedom and low glare, high-quality light that it provides. The research and development investment into OLED technology has paved the way for the future of displays technology, but perhaps not the future of lighting. As major lighting companies have withdrawn from OLED, a market opportunity has emerged: a desire for modern, elegant lighting design with ultra-thin, surface modules, but with the performance benefits that can only be found in LED.

OLED lighting created a new generation of lighting design but, by shifting the paradigm of how this is engineered, a new technology based on LEDs can fulfill this exciting opportunity across multiple industries and applications. By reaching beyond the normal circle of innovators, advisers, and creatives for solutions to challenges and opportunities that could not
be found within existing lighting technologies. This new technology and product breathe new life into a design movement that was created by OLED but will flourish with LED.

Sources:

This article was kindly inspired by Lightly Technologies and based on the recent publication titled Inspiration from a Parallel Universe: Reviving the
Vision of OLED’
in the LED professional Magazine Jubilee Issue #75.