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Led Light Bulb
2009-09-26 10:46:37
Led Light Bulb

Illuminating the Possibilities

We strongly believe that environmentally responsible design is not a gimmick, and therefore, we did not want to focus on the environmental aspects of alternative lighting alone and risk appealing only to a narrow audience. The problem was more complicated than how to build a green bulb. It was also about the psychology of light quality and how that impacts the acceptance of current offerings. We researched how light quality differed in several environments, including work, home and retail. Ultimately, we wanted to appeal to those consumers wanting a less harsh alternative to compact fluorescent lights (CFL), but who also want to save money and be more environmentally responsible.

Our original goal was to improve the CFL bulb, both in color and usability, but the technology to do so was not obvious. We began to explore colored filters and realized that any filter would reduce the lumen output. We then looked into adding LEDs to change the overall color output. This led us to the realization that florescent lights have huge environmental drawbacks. CFLs use ballast, which contains mercury, electronics and plastic housings. Most consumers just throw fluorescents out with the trash, even though they should be disposed of as toxic waste. CFLs are not dimmable and therefore use their maximum light output each time they’re turned on. In addition, the form and cold color of CFLs keep them from being widely accepted as a replacement to the incandescent bulb.

We examined high-powered LEDs instead. They use significantly less power than a CFL, can be tuned to give a pleasant color output and contain no mercury. The drawback is that high-output LEDs create heat (although not nearly as much as incandescent lights) that needs to be dissipated, or the life of the LED is greatly affected.

As our ideas began to focus on combining LEDs with a fluorescent, we sketched several forms that tried to create harmony between the two technologies. The idea of creating a separation between work and home life through the modulation of the color output drove some of our early forms. As soon as we chose to use only high-output LEDs, our forms changed significantly, rendering the old concepts no longer valid.

As designers are inclined to do, we started to create beautiful forms that revolved around the advantages of the new technology and the form factor it lent itself to. This may have been our biggest wrong turn. With LEDs, that form was flat and thin; but this would not solve the problem we had defined for ourselves. To create the biggest impact on society, this design had to keep the barriers to acceptance as low as practical—which in part meant no super-sexy, fluid designs that would only be found in high-end design stores. Any unnecessary styling would cause a rift in its mainstream acceptance.

We realized the easiest way to create acceptance was to deliver the technology in an already widely accepted form. The form of a standard light bulb was then the obvious choice. It would not ask consumers to change their form of power, their light socket or replace the lampshade attached to the bulb. And it underscored the notion that good design is about solving problems for the whole ecosystem of the product.

The definition of the problem and the technical restraints with the chosen solution dictated the materials. The goal was not to make a completely green design. Our material choices for the final concept were a balance between the environmental aspects, the durability of the material, the technical constraints and aesthetics. We expect this light bulb to last 30 years or more, so it had to be durable. The bulb had to interface with a standard socket, so the base had to be conductive. And the heat generated by the LEDs had to be transferred to the base, so aluminum was a good choice. Ultimately, the materials chose themselves, and then we played with different skins for the bulb to differentiate it from incandescents and to make it more intriguing.

In the end, we arrived at a concept that offers better energy efficiency than CFLs without the toxic mercury, provides a desirable light quality and dimming capability, and fits into the socket connection of the incandescent—all in a package that will last 30 years.

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