by , 09/07/05

LED Fabrics

Philips Research is currently showing off a their new Photonic Textiles at the IFA Consumer Electronics Fair in Berlin. The Photonic Fabric integrates flexible arrays of multicolored LEDs into the weave, allowing the fabric to give off light and display programmable patterns like text messages, without compromising the softness of the cloth. Philips’ Photonic Textile Prototypes include an “SMS pillow” and an “SMS Backpack” (send a text message to it and words scroll across it). Future applications for this type of LED-embedded fabric will be things like on-the-fly customizable clothing.

This is a clever innovation, but does anyone else think these photographs are somewhat disturbing? I mean what’s with the slightly violent imagery of a hand punching a pillow in one shot, and then a girl lovingly caressing her pillow in the other? And why pillows in the first place? If I were working on developing a high-tech fabric like this, I would have started with something for the kids ? maybe SMS T-shirts or something….

Via Engadget

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  1. kelvin - savana lindsey December 12, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    hi mike, we need to make a light emitting leather fabric using leds for cient logos and interactive play
    on the seats in our manufactured limosines. will you partner with us on the development of this request?
    we would like to offer it to our existing clietnts with the new 2008 chysler 300 limo production line.
    paul riccardi / kelvin / savana

  2. Jallal January 20, 2007 at 6:38 am

    hi mike we would just like to know how to make a light emitting shirt using LEDs because we need the instructions for a school science fair
    p.s can you tell us how to make the light look like its moving on the shirt, and change color
    thank very very much
    hope to hear from u soon

  3. Sage December 23, 2005 at 2:24 am

    Wikipedia states that the blue OLEDs (organic LEDs) currently have a lifespan of 37,000 hours, which works out to roughly 4.5 years if on continually. The red and green OLEDS have much longer lifespans.

    I believe LEDs do represent sustainable and smart design, because of their relatively low energy needs and also their digital controllability. LEDs are suitable for integrating into nanoscale circuitry and battery systems. I am very excited about a time when solar cells embedded into curtains or blinds absorb light and convert the sunlight into power for the LEDs also embedded into them. Both of these technologies already exist. Also, these OLEDs can be ink-jet printed onto flexible surfaces…perhaps saving trees from being turned into pulp for paper. I too would like to know more about how they are produced and what the organic material is and where it comes from. Is there still a resin shell? How are they wired?

    I for one don’t think LED embedded shirts are silly at all. I can think of wonderful uses for communicating using smart fabric. Social and spiritual design is vital to our happiness. Glad to hear everyone’s thought-provoking comments.

  4. mike September 9, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    Agreed that the technology has potential. Some of the uses though I would question, and also question the support structure that is required for them to work. I think New Orleans is a perfect example where we perhaps have overstepped out technological bounds. Yes, levees hold back water. Yes, we should be able to control the flow of water. Yes, the order was sent out to millions to evacuate. We have cellphones, laptops, cars, trucks, planes, spaceships… all that technology didn’t really help folks who didn’t have access and $$ to support it. Thousands of folks left via private auto. Maybe they charged their cell phones, laptops, etc before they left. Thousands more were left behind, and some of them walked out, with their lives on their back.

    What about when the power goes out, and the batteries run dry? An LED shirt may be great for a firefighter… but a street kid who gets stranded in a flood? Where does that come from? Salvation Army? Whats the life cycle of the product? Is it forever? Will it work 5 years from now when it’s on the shelf of the used clothing store? Will batteries be available? Is the technology so simple that I can figure out how to repair it using local resources? Or do I need to call tech support in another country in order to figure out how it works? What is the legacy of the product on an civilization / evolutionary scale? Are we creating a new rosetta stone with each leap? (CD Roms of data, DAT tapes, Records, Punch Cards… etc)

    I appreciate the effort and love checking in on Inhabitat… I’d be curious for you to do a posting or series of posts with comments on what “sustainable” means in this context. It’s got thousands of variations – and I think in some cases it gets watered down…

    Referencing your covering something in the news versus something that you might endorse as being sustainable… isn’t the site about “sustainable and smart design?” Why cover things that don’t seem to fit? What are some of your editorial filters on what is sustainable and what is not? There are plenty places to pick up cool gadgets and techno advances on the web… fewer places to find things that would seem to promote a just an equitable future that uses design as one tool to get there.

    Keep writing and posting.

  5. Jill September 8, 2005 at 10:53 pm

    Hi Mike-

    Please keep in mind that just because we cover something in the news doesn’t mean we are endorsing it as a product. We cover developments in the news that we think could have potential to transform design. I think this development is very interesting for a number of reasons. As I hope you can tell from the article, I personally think an SMS pillow (or T-shirt for that matter) is rather silly. It?s the technology, not the prototypes, that interest me here.

    I see a lot of potential in this development ? probably more from a safety and communication issue than from an ecological sustainability issue. Imagine if you could thread LEDs through out all fabrics, as a safety device? There are many ways that this could be really useful, particularly in remote areas without electricity or in dealing with natural disasters.

    One’s clothes could become a substitute for a flashlight in power outage. People could “turn on” their clothes at night as a reflector while walking down the street, or so that cars don’t hit them. In situations of emergency at night, people could “turn on” their LEDs in order to be found by rescuers.

    From an interiors / home perspective, LEDs embedded in fabrics could be used to develop luminescent curtains, walls, or furniture. Because LEDs consume so little energy, this could be a potentially very eco-friendly development.

    Because I don’t know much about this project except from what I’ve read in the news, I actually don’t know a lot about the energy costs involved in creating or disposing of LED fabric. I bet if you wanted to contact someone at Philips involved with this project, they might be able to tell you. Let me know what you find out!

  6. mike September 8, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Just how does this, and many other items on Inhabitat “… push architecture and interior design to a smarter and more sustainable future.”? LED technology is interesting, the concept for illuminating fabric and text messaging my backpack is sort of cool in a gimmicky sort of way… but just because we can – should we? This and many other items are essentially consumption and fashion driven, using energy not only to fabricate – but to promote and use and eventually dispose of. Can this fabric be turned into another product? Recyled – not downcycled? Can it be an industrial or natural nutrient? What are it’s embodied energy costs in development, getting to market, use, and disposal – along with its trail of pollutants and chemicals?

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