Light emitting diode (LED) technology has developed quickly over the last decade. Once only the familiar red dot indicating power was “on,” LEDs can now replace traditional incandescent and fluorescent lighting as our primary source of illumination.
In this role, energy efficiency and extremely long life are the key attributes. Additionally, LED’s high light output, compact size, and color variety can enable artistic expression formerly impossible with other light sources.
Looking beyond the more traditional uses, their unique spectral properties are providing research opportunities ranging from the plant growth systems being studied as part of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems, to compact ultraviolet disinfection, and the treatment of seasonal affect disorder. But with ever-increasing device capabilities comes an accompanying need for more complex controls, drive electronics, and heat management solutions. New LED technology requires a system perspective to maximize performance and utilize its full potential.
Control of LED systems often centers on the human perception of light and color. We perceive color through the combined stimulation of the cone cells in our eyes. The three types of cells present (sometimes referred to as red, green and blue receptors) are each sensitive to a particular range of colors (i.e. wavelengths of light energy). The perception of virtually any color can be achieved through the individually controlled emission of red, green and blue light (as from LEDs). This is the same principle used by each pixel in a television or monitor to display color images. When all three colors are present in the proper ratios, the perception of white light can be created. Smart control electronics can dynamically change the intensity of a system’s LED elements to create a variety of effects, moods, intensities and illumination colors.
Electronics may also control less obvious, and often invisible, aspects of system performance. Pulsed patterns of infrared LED light provide the data communication in most television remote controls and many short-distance fiber optic communication links. System interlocks may turn off ultraviolet emissions during certain operations to prevent human exposure to potentially harmful light output. A system could also actively monitor the temperature of a high-powered LED to prevent damage to the device.
A major trend in LED evolution has been the development of devices with increasingly higher light output.
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