Organic LEDs: The future of flexible displays and lighting

A comprehensive overview of printable OLED applications in VLC systems provides guidance for designing OLED materials and devices
17 May 2023
Schematic illustration of OLED and OVLC applications
OLED and OVLC applications include (a) flexible, wearable OLED displays (Credit: Fiere Electronics; Lifewire); (b) VLC-based smart home, and (c) vehicular VLC system. Credit: Guo et al., doi 10.1117/1.APN.2.4.044001

Flexible displays and solid-state lighting have gained immense attention as next-generation technology, and organic LEDs (OLEDs) are emerging as a top contender in this field. With their flexibility, OLEDs have the potential to revolutionize indoor systems by providing customized and specific information. One exciting application is visible light communication (VLC), where OLEDs can serve as both an illumination source and a means of data communication. The integration of OLEDs into VLC systems offers unique advantages such as enhanced security, license-free operation, and scalability. This breakthrough technology could be a game-changer for next-generation (6G) Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, enabling seamless data exchange between interconnected devices for environmental monitoring systems, smart homes, and display-to-display interactions. Researchers from the Shaanxi University of Science and Technology and Shanghai University recently summarized progress in printable OLEDs for future VLC systems. Their work is published in Advanced Photonics Nexus.

Advances in LED Materials for VLC Systems
Recent advancements in LED materials suitable for VLC systems include inorganic semiconductors, quantum dots, organic semiconductors, metal-organic frameworks, and hybrid organic–inorganic perovskites. Among these, the authors emphasize the use of nontoxic organic materials-based OLEDs as a cost-effective and environmentally friendly light source for VLC. In particular, they discuss the advancements in white OLEDs for solid-state lighting, focusing on the development of efficient emitting materials and device structures that can facilitate VLC applications.

Current Status and Opportunities for OLED-Based VLC
This rapidly evolving research field has shifted in focus from data transmission rates to factors such as low-cost manufacturing, toxicity, sustainability, recyclability, production volume, and flexibility as key considerations for evaluating OLEDs for VLC applications. Potential opportunities may be found in extending the spectral range of OLEDs from visible light into the near-infrared (NIR) window. Such expansion not only enhances the bandwidth of VLC links but also opens up possibilities for utilizing VLC in biosensing applications.

Manufacturing Strategies for Printable OLEDs
To achieve commercial viability, it is crucial to address the manufacturing costs associated with OLED and OVLC development. Solution-processable fabrication strategies include inkjet printing, slot-die coating, and blade coating technologies. Scalable direct-printed OLED manufacture will benefit from future roll-to-roll manufacturing. Moreover, 3D-printed OLEDs show terrific potential as low-cost printed transmitters for VLC links.

The All-Organic VLC System: A New Research Direction
Looking towards the future of VLC, a new research direction is emerging: the all-organic VLC system. While its performance may currently be subpar, the all-organic VLC system offers exciting prospects for printable, cost-effective, and highly integrated solutions. The use of nontoxic organic semiconductor materials is driving this area forward, thanks to their promise of low-cost production and sustainability.

Overall, the comprehensive review of the application of printable OLEDs in VLC systems yields important insights into the design of high-quality organic LED materials and devices for light communication applications. It highlights the potential of OLEDs as versatile technology for future flexible displays, solid-state lighting, and VLC systems. Exploring emerging materials, manufacturing strategies, and the all-organic VLC system, it opens the way for exciting advancements in the field of visible light communication.

Read the Gold Open Access article by K. Guo et al., “Printable organic light-emitting diodes for next-generation visible light communications: a review,” Adv. Photon. Nexus 2(4) 044001 (2023), doi 10.1117/1.APN.2.4.044001

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