My son was asking me about OLED technology the other day. This is the result of that conversation as I explained to him what it is and what the future will hold for it. Once he had the basics, his mind ran with it and we waxed rhapsodic with a vision of the house of the future where “convergent technology” is realized in ways the scifi authors of the golden age did not foresee. Perhaps the closest to it was the “HoloDeck” on Jean Luc Picard’s Enterprise. But even that failed to capture the full potential of this technology.
Organic Light Emitting Diodes
An OLED is made by placing a series of organic thin films between two conductors. When electrical current is applied, a bright light is emitted. The films can be so flexible as to be rolled up, and now they are making progress towards what will eventually be completely transparent panels. OLED technology remains expensive, though prices are dropping rapidly. The 55” Samsung was introduced only a year ago at 6500.00 and is now available at 3500.00. In theory, OLED screens will drop well below the cost of LCD and similar technology as they are far simpler and may be scaled to any size. If you want to get into the depths of the technology the Internet is rotten with information. However, rather than leave you reeling with complex terms and concepts I am going to leave the technical projections simply to this:
- very thin > 0.25mm, light, unbreakable
- Bendable, ready for production (Galaxy Round, LG-Flex)
- Rollable, completely flexible –> ready 2016
- Printable, displays like a paper –> ready 2018-2020
Yes, friends…it’s just around the corner.
You might ask just what is “organic” about a screen. OLED’s are made entirely of carbon and hydrogen. That’s about as green as one can get. No heavy metals or toxic gases required.
But What is it GOOD for??
Ah, now we can let our imaginations soar! And not with fantasy, but based on the above industry projections. So, let’s take a look at a living room, ca. 2025…perhaps YOURS.
First you notice that there are no signs of any light fixtures you’d recognize. There are no windows, yet there is a perfectly even light in the room. Paintings by old masters hang on the walls, and the floor is a carpet of the most exquisite weaving you can imagine. You sit in your lounger and lean back. The sky is above you and white, fluffy clouds speed along. In spite of the blue sky and white clouds you suddenly hear thunder. You gesture towards the outside wall and you can see outside…and the actual sky where a storm is brewing. As the lawn needs mowing, you gesture again and you are in a villa overlooking the deep blue waters of a Greek isle.
All the lights, blue sky and clouds, masterworks on the wall, and even the “carpet” below is from high resolution OLED technology. As it is “active,” when not charge it is totally black and dark as the inside of a Pittsburgh coal bin at midnight. When fully lit, it is blindingly bright.
So far, we are in the reasonably known expectation for development. But let’s take a leap and some not yet on the horizon possibilities that would make this even more Enterprise-like. Not much research has been done on the sticky issue of holographic projection for several decades. The Russians did quite a bit of work in the 70s and even produced some color motion holograms, but significant technical hurdles stubbornly remain. I think that as OLED moves forward as described above that a LOT more resources will be spent working out the bugs in holography. So, you might be sitting in your lounger watching an approaching steam engine. As it comes to within a few feet of you it is in full 3D and you look to your right as it roars by your chair and begins to recede into the rear wall as the smoke drifts upward into the blue sky.
The holography part is speculative…though entirely plausible. The rest is based on industry projections and will happen, and soon. Let your own mind consider the possibilities. Virtual parties with friends from all over the world, gliding through space in your lounger with infinity on all sides of your lounger. Near invisibility of machines…or persons…wearing or coated with OLED materials with the surroundings projected by them. Ladies, never worry over the right shoes.
With just a gesture your shoes take on the color or pattern of the outfit you are wearing.
Don’t want the neighborhood Nazis sending you nastygram about your camper in the drive? Just project the surroundings on it and it will disappear.
The Ever Increasing Speed of Change
When I was 6 years old we’d visit my grandmother in DeQueen, Arkansas. She lived in a board-and-batten (single wall, no drywall) weather house. It was heated by a potbellied stove in the living room and a wood range in the kitchen-dining room. There was a single power line in that ran lights and a radio in the living room and kitchen. When you went to bed, you took a kerosene lamp with you. The bedrooms had neither lights nor heat. Bathing on a winter day was in a steel tub on the back porch. You shivered and you teeth chattered, then you’d scrunch up in one end as grandma or someone approached with a pot of boiling water from the stove. That would make it tolerable for a few minutes…but you did NOT linger. I make that description to allow the reader to open their minds to the images of the future I have just painted. I suspect my grandmother would have simply laughed if I attempted to tell her of the autonomous vehicles only a half century away, of cell phones able to almost instantly locate any piece of information from any point on the globe, of robotic surgeons and a space station. But those tales would not begin to describe the next half century. Even the most absurd fantasizing probably falls short of the changes our children will see. My son already realizes that he may only actually drive a car for a decade or less. His own children will listen in disbelief about traffic jams, drunk drivers, and 50,000 deaths a year on the highways, as by that time the highways will be as safe as an airplane today. Embrace, enjoy, and remember a scratch-made pie baked in a wood fired oven. It will only be a 100 years from that to a scratch made pie hot from another oven, and delivered by a drone. My grandmother might or might not appreciate that.