Inorganic Printed LEDs for Wearable Technology

James Claypole, Alex Holder, Cailin McCall (Corresponding author), Amy K.M. Winters, William Ray, Tim Claypole

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A new form of inorganic printed electronics has been developed that allows for high speed production of solid-state lighting on flexible substrates. Light emitting diodes (LED) become more efficient as their size is decreased. However, the difficulties in making the electrical connection to micro LEDs has previously prevented these benefits being exploited outside the laboratory. Standard InGaN film, grown on a defined substrate (heteroepitaxy), was fabricated into micro LEDs (approx. 27 µm) and dispersed in a carrier fluid to form an ink, which can then be printed using established printing technologies. During printing and curing, the geometry of the individual micro LEDs causes them to orientate into a single preferential direction. Connections can then be made via further printed layers of conductive and dielectric ink to create flexible lamps consisting of areas of discrete LEDs. These lamps have low power consumption and high light output making them ideal for incorporating into garments and for packaging. The “Thunderstorm” dress (a Rainbow Winters project) was developed for the “Wired to Wear” exhibition in the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) to demonstrate the potential of this technology. The concept was to turn the wearer into a living representation of a thunderstorm. The concept had previously been realised in 2010 using electroluminescent elements (EL) to create a lightning flash in the panels of the dress. However, this required the wearer to carry high voltage devices, bulky electronics and heavy batteries. Instead, using inorganic printed LEDs afforded the potential to create a truly wearable piece of haute couture, using low voltages, miniature electronics and small batteries. The work reported here describes the fabrication technique used to create the micro LED lamps and the issues related to their integration into a piece of wearable technology. The lamps could be driven in such a way as to create a more realistic flash compared to the EL version. Other potential applications such as smart packaging, are also discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Number of pages7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


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