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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 08:48 GMT
Bright outlook for LEDs
LEDs are replacing bulbs in everyday devices
By BBC Click Online's David Jamieson

It is hard to believe, but the prosaic light emitting diode, or LED, so beloved of electronics students, is beginning once again to set the world alight.

Some new uses are being found for those low-powered beasts. High brightness LEDs are replacing bulbs in all sorts of everyday devices.

One area where the LED is making an appearance is in car brake lights, where it could even save lives.

"When that stop-light lights up, it comes on two-tenths of a second quicker in the back end of a Cadillac than it would on another car using an incandescent bulb," said Robert Soran, Uniroyal Chief Executive Officer.

"And if a person stops by seeing a stop-light come on two-tenths of a second quicker at 50 miles (80 kilometres) an hour, it's about 12 to 15 additional stopping feet (3.5-4.5 metres) of stopping distance that you'd have to be able to stop."

Efficient design

LEDs were designed by Hewlett Packard more than 30 years ago.

We see a big market building with this technology, independently of whether it gets used for light bulbs

Robert Steele, Strategies Unlimited
They contain a chemical compound that emits light when an electric current passes through it.

They can consume 90% less power than a conventional incandescent bulb. LEDs can last up to 100,000 hours.

The only drawback is cost. Currently LEDs for a traffic signal can cost up to 50 times as much as a conventional bulb.

"We see a big market building with this technology, independently of whether it gets used for light bulbs," said Robert Steele, director of Strategies Unlimited.

"And that will happen eventually. But in the meantime, we see all these other applications; a very robust market that's going to happen that will help drive prices down, help generate profits to fund the research and development that will be needed to improve the efficiency.

"It's a sequence of events and a sequence of applications that ultimately [will lead to] the Holy Grail of lighting and that will happen."

It may take at least five years but researchers still believe LEDs will find their way back into our homes.

Click Online is on BBC World on Thursday at 1930, Friday at 0430, Saturday at 0030 and 0630, Sunday at 1030, Monday at 0330, 0730 and 1630, Tuesday at 0030 and 1030 and Wednesday at 1330. All times GMT.

See also:

24 Aug 01 | Business
Inventor sues employer for patent
17 Sep 99 | Sheffield 99
'Everlasting' light bulb on the way
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