the light engine of the future

Today I took the time to explore Dutch Design Week, to tour the immense range of offerings scattered throughout the city of Eindhoven.  A dazzling display of aesthetic, technical, and programmatic creativity, DDW showcases top creative talent from across the country, ranging from college kids in design, art, architecture, multimedia and fashion degrees, from individual artists to the powerhouse design brands.

Stepping back, there were clear trends.  Sustainable thinking was a huge component of the show, with countless examples of innovative uses of alternative natural materials, use of recycled man-made materials, and systemic circular economy product designs tied to innovative business model proposals.

Digital fabrication was everywhere, especially in the use of additive manufacturing via a variety of techniques (3D printing of course, but also digitally control weaving, folding, 3D printed mold making techniques, etc.)  Especially interesting was the hybrid use of hand craft with high tech materials or high tech fabrication processes.

All of it adds up to reinforce my vision for a “light engine of the future” for linear and planar light sources.  My vision includes:

  • High volume, roll-to-roll, digital fabrication
    • It must be producible  on fast machinery, but using a complete digital solution such as ink-jet printing for the electronic pathways, continuously adjustable pick’n’place of components, and digital additive processes such as optical printing
  • Natural, low-embodied-energy materials
    • The primary substrate must be a highly sustainable material, one that uses a material like “waste” agriculture products, recycled low-grade technical materials, or natural materials with an extremely low footprint and processing stream
  • Cradle-to-cradle design
    • Ideally, the entire light engine can be thrown in an organic compost heap when at end of use-period, potentially even enriching the soil; anything that doesn’t decompose will be smaller than a grain of sand and total inert
  • A wide variety of optical treatments
    • Additive digital printing of optics or layering of digitally fabricated optical sheet stock can create a huge variety of optics
    • I think we’re going to see some interesting use of biomimicry to create unique new optical structures for diffusion, directional control, or simply novel aesthetics
  • Inherently sealed, laminated into one material layer, designed to be altered like any other stock sheet material
    • Let fixture manufacturers use an enormous range of fabrication processes to invent wild new lighting applications, like embedded lighting
    • Dust, shock, moisture proof (under carefully design architectural conditions…so as not to prematurely decompose)
    • The electrical design will be smart enough to allow a fabricator to alter the sheet stock (cutting it, punching holes in it, folding it, molding it, etc.) while maintaining constant light output

It sounds crazy, right?  But all the base technologies exist today.  They just have to be put together.  That is where the great inventions and innovations will occur…