solid state beam shaping

Seeing  the innovative fixture from Fonckel with a “controllable light beam” is satisfying to me on a different level:  Fonckel is demonstrating that LEDs have hit a low enough price point to enable more creative uses of light that have long been imagined, but not commercially viable, such as “solid state beam shaping”.

The notion of using multiple LEDs to produce different optic patterns is a natural one.  There is a simple precedent for such effect:  The hi/low beams in automotive headlights.  By simply switching between two filaments positioned slightly forward or aft within the reflector optic, a headlight can aim up or down.  As LED prices have decreased at a drastic yet highly predictable rate, there is a point in the future where it will be cheap to use redundant LEDs for effect purposes.

At Color Kinetics, back in 2005-2007, we did many conceptual exercises with the assumption that LEDs would one day be so cheap that they would themselves represent a trivial portion of the overall product cost.  I had proposed a concept which at the time I nicknamed “solid state beam shaping”.  The notion was to use concentric circles of LEDs, with each outlying ring have a wider beam distribution.  Dim the rings in and out, and you can adjust a beam from narrow to wide with no moving optical parts.  Alternatively, a line of LEDs aimed at different angles could “steer” a light from left to right.

LEDs were too expensive at the time, but the one product that utilized this concept (at least at the most basic level) was the Color Reach:  The Color Reach was split into two halves, each with its own set of control channels, so that different optics could be combined on one fixture.  Combine a wide spread lens and a narrow lens, and the beam angle can be controlled or even animated — in this case, for floodlighting skyscrapers and other monumental projects.

I’m confident that this is a trend that many other companies will continue to explore.  As LEDs become more powerful, compact, and cheaper, the ability to add in extra LEDs to products will continue to be explored.  A natural area for exploration is retail spotlights, where adjustable beam angles are commonly used.