Blinded by science

Alix Paultre, PSD Contributor



The world of LED and other solid-state lighting (SSL) has undergone a massive sea change, one that is still ongoing and growing in ways we can barely imagine. Frankly, the changes in the lighting industry have been taking a little too long to come to fruition as the industry stumbles around getting its act together. Poor early product development and launches of expensive and inadequate product hampered the market acceptance of SSL for at least a decade.

Now, finally, we are seeing solid-state lighting make its proper impact on the lighting industry, as even the worst LED designs today are finally adequate to the task of providing basic photon emission. The problem is that the industry is still being shortsighted to the integration of both core technology to legacy luminaire spaces, and the creation of new luminaires to enable SSL technology to be optimally applied.

Bad bulbs

The LED industry wasted at least a decade trying to cram advanced power electronics into the Edison socket, a mad race for market share in an installed base, ignoring the ridiculous engineering constraints it placed on electronic design. Issues with thermal management and form factor still challenge the light bulb replacement market, and dimmer technology is only now finally becoming sophisticated enough to deliver the performance advantages that justify the cost increases in SSL systems.

The problem with bad products in a developing market, especially in an area sensitive to personal taste such as interior decoration and lighting, is that each bad experience sets back adoption by a generation. Ugly color temperatures, sloppy diming curves, and high costs do not induce product adoption or brand loyalty. The latest devices finally are starting to perform as promised at price points that are not insulting to the consumer, and we are finally seeing healthy market adoption.

Illumination irritation

The SSL industry, at every level, from panel indicators to street lights, still has much to learn. LED lighting color temperature and intensity are still areas of significant consumer displeasure. From worries about excessive blue light in smartphone displays to street lighting that is perceived as too harsh and bright by citizens to indicator lights on devices that disrupt sleep patterns, it is obvious that the SSL industry still has a long way to go before LED lamps get the same respect as incandescents once did.

The answer to the issue is more and better power- and color-management technologies, new luminaire designs that break the systems free of the cramped straightjacket of the Edison socket, and better sensor and user interfaces to enhance the user experience and give them more, not less, control over their illumination in color temperature as well as intensity. Then we can worry about next-generation functionalities like opto comms. Otherwise we will hamper the deployment of next-gen SSL adoption as well.