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back to article World+Dog hails 50th birthday of the LED

The Light Emitting Diode (LED) is 50 years old. Well, kind of... It’s certainly 50 years since Nick Holonyak, working at GEC’s Syracuse, New York facility, developed what is considered the first LED capable of generating visible light. Holonyak’s LED was also the first to be in form ready for commercial usage. He wrote up his …

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By standing on the shoulders of giants

some could see further.

Now we use patents to bring them to their knees and can see from about the giants navel level - into a thicket of legislation.

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FAIL

Re: By standing on the shoulders of giants

So you skipped the bits in the article about patent dates? All of this stuff was patented by the original inventor and, after 25 years became public domain.

The alternative to patents is for inventors to keep this kind of thing as a trade secret, which results in much slower adoption and makes it hard for others to build on the work.

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Coat

So who is going to blow out the LEDs on the birthday cake?

OK, OK, I'm going

;-)

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So that is who is responsible

For my lounge being bathed in light 24 hours a day, even with the lights off. Awesome invention.

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FAIL

Re: So that is who is responsible

You don't have curtains?

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JB
Happy

Re: So that is who is responsible

Totally agree...but that's what blu-tak and aluminium foil are for!

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Prior Art.

Having as a kid inadvertently connected a BY100 silicon rectifier directly across the live- and neutral-pins of a 15 amp 240V socket, I really think I should try to establish rights to having invented that little-known but fundamentally-important semiconductor device, the Noise Emitting Diode.

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Re: Prior Art.

Very good.

Or the Smoke Emitting Diode?

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Re: Prior Art.

@Tanuki

Alas.... without knowing your age, and thus in which year you created the 'Noise Emitting Diode', I believe that you may have been beaten to it. The soundtrack to the 1956 film Forbidden Planet was in part created by recording the sound of overloaded diodes onto magnetic tape.

At least I think that was the case, as it is possible that the term 'diodes dying' was being used merely as a description of the music's tone... Can anyone supply a good link?

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Re: Prior Art.

I have dibs on a wide range of smoke emitting semiconductors - with enough current some emit light and heat as well.

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Re: Prior Art.

Isn't a piezo-electric sounder technically a Noise Emitting Diode?

You could probably try for Smoke Emitting Diode, but I bet there's loads of prior art - I know I did it enough in my youth to various inoffensive semiconductors, and there's probably someone who managed to do it with a diode in a glass bubble as well...

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piezo

No, it's not a noise-emitting diode - it's not a diode, but a crystal which changes shape when an electric field is applied across it.

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Re: Prior Art.

I once connected an LED across the 5V terminals of a Commodore PET power supply without a current limiting resistor. That became a clusterbomb diode.

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Re: Prior Art.

Smoke Emitting Diode? There must be a Lucas part number for that.

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Windows

Re: Prior Art.

Back in the early 1960s the rectifier valve in old radios could be replaced by a longer-lasting solid state selenium rectifier. Miscalculate the peak voltage rating and it would splutter, sparkle, and emit a foul acrid stench of rotten eggs.

The most fascinating light effect was watching an overloaded valve RF PA glowing blue - with the light dancing in time to the speech modulation. Was that an EF91 or an EL91 on 160 meters? They had to be replaced quite often.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Prior Art.

No, a piezo element is a capacitor, not a diode.

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Re: Prior Art.

I see there is also news this week about the venerable 555 timer.

I remember as a high school student venturing into electronics for the first time blowing (rather explosively) the top off a 555 timer when trying to build a small computer controlled synthesizer.

Apparently, it's not a good idea to connect pin 3 directly to a speaker.

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Re: Prior Art.

Scalextric power supplies were the staple of my experiments. A good old fashioned lump of steel that produced 12v with enough amps to cause mischief (and run car cassette players to play my pink floyd). When coupled with TTL stuff they would often emit various qualities of magic smoke. TTL often lasted longer and was the choice in between electrolytic racing. I rarely got to play with LEDs as they were still fairly exotic in salvaged kit. I remember seeing my first blue LED in maplin that cost over £4 each too!

The old days of dumping stuff on a tip was a great way for a youngster to "salvage" electronic kit for desoldering.

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Anonymous Coward

re tanuki

More screech-emitting-die-off I would have thort

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Joke

Brighter and more efficient.

But less about me.

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Shine a little light in my life...

I was wondering when ElReg would pick up on this... as the BBC has an excellent slideshow with narration on the development and evolution of LEDs by Nick Holonyak himself, on the BBC News Tech page

I recall forking out my hard earned pocket money on red, green and yellow LEDs in the late 1970's and early 80's. To the electronic hobbyist, an illuminated LED meant it was ON! However it didn't guarantee the Everyday Electronics project I painstakingly etched and soldered together worked though!

My most valued project was an LED based VU meter and the LEDs would light up to the music levels, oh such joy for a nerdy schoolboy in 1980!

Today we take the little light emitting diode for granted, it's commonplace and cheap, but it tells us things are recording, or are powered on, on-line, the channel number or sometimes if something is actually faulty. 7 segment LEDs also tell us the time and how much things cost when we shop..

My son recently bought two LED torches, these things make a thousand plus Lumens and use Cree LED technology, how things have changed over the years. These torches have an adjustable focus point and you can actually see the square shape of the LED when the adjustable lens on the torch is zoomed out.. all this from an LED? Afuckingmazing..

Yes, the LED deserves all the credit it gets for it's 50th birthday..

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(Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

Re: Shine a little light in my life...

Thanks for the pointer - added to the article.

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Re: Shine a little light in my life...

Couldn't agree more. I have seen LED streetlights in various locations too. Soon that is the only technology they will use.

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Get the LED out

VU meter - nice. I built a few things using LEDs in the early 1990s. Best of all were the "2 in one" jobs with a white bezel. Connected one way, it goes green, the other way, red. When blue LEDs were eventually launched, manufacturers stuck them on everything from thumb drives to electric kettles. Now the "in" colour seems to be white.

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TRT
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Re: Shine a little light in my life...

I hate those LED streetlights. They are all white and look like car headlights instead of being a nice sodium orange.

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Joke

Re: Shine a little light in my life...

...on really, really, really tall cars.

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Stop

Re: Shine a little light in my life...

Well they are supposed to illuminate properly, not like those naff sodium orange ones that did bugger all to light the area.

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Happy

Re: Shine a little light in my life...

"Well they are supposed to illuminate properly, not like those naff sodium orange ones that did bugger all to light the area."

As 1950s kids the rather strange colours sodium orange ones induced in faces and clothes was a source of great humour. We used to walk along the pavement marvelling that the new lights illuminated the whole road - rather than just a circle round the lamppost. Even better was that they had also resurfaced the pavements with flagstones which literally sparkled in that light. Magical!

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Re: Shine a little light in my life...

Quite right. Sodium orange is magical and sparkly! I'm more of a 70's kid, though. It still applies.

And the car headlight thing is because there are some very heavily parked, curved roads near where I live, and if I can see a car moving down the road, either during the day by seeing the roof, or at night by seeing the headlights reflected in the sides of cars around the bend, I can wait opposite the entrance to a car workshop where the road is wider. Now they're trialling some white LED lamps at the top of the hill and I find it hard to know if it's those being reflected or a car who has seen MY lights and is waiting for me at the top of the hill. I now flash my lights and wait a few seconds for a response before entering the narrow strait. It's a bit like the old hump-back bridge on a dark narrow road scenario.

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Lollipop Anyone?

Kojak stylewristwatch. Plain black face, press a button and the time glowed in lovely red LEDness.

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Re: Lollipop Anyone?

Except if you made the Sinclair kit, you were a genius if you could fit it in the black case

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Mushroom

Losev was tragic loss

Marconi's assistant told Marconi about the glowing crystal, but like many successful entrepreneurs, he had a single obsession, to make money from Radio. As it wasn't a good radio detector, he wasn't interested.

I knew Losev had published about LED. I didn't realise he had an LED patent though. He also described a "Transistor" (not called that then) but unfortunately most of what he wrote on that was destroyed in the War.

Stupid War.

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Coat

Magic

All semiconductors run on magic smoke. Because when it escapes they don't work. All that is left is a bit of glass like crystal and some wires.

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Anonymous Coward

LED displays

It seems surprising that no one appears to have married model railway style digital control circuitry to an RGB LED in one package. This would enable displays made from daisychained LEDs on a two-wire cable - possibly using bee sting connectiors. Trying to do it from current readymade components hits an economical limit due to model railway DCC unit pricing. More discrete IC components were available a while ago ago - but RGB LEDs were still expensive then.

You could either have a large Xmas tree decorated with a single string - or arrange them on a board in a pattern. The lighting order, and colour, would then be subject to a programmed controller. Each LED would have a unique polling ID - and could also be dynamically assigned to a group to save time effecting realtime changes.

Has it been done? Everything in the consumer shops seems to rely on individual wires.

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Re: LED displays

You don't need DCC, just DMX. Been around for years.

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Re: LED displays

I'm rather liking the idea of setting up a model railway around the edge of a room (a la The Highbury Vaults in Bristol), but with the carriages carrying banks of (adjustable) LEDs acting as reading lights or as more ambient lighting.

Hmm, I have some reading to do!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: LED displays

Although it does cover the general requirement - DMX appears to be a signalling system that is designed to cover relatively long runs for buildings. Presumably the signal receiver is incorporated into relatively high power lamps taking their power from another source?

There is a system where the low power for the devices, and the control signal, are both carried on the same two wires in the daisychain cable. DCC appears to be a 15v AC supply with the control signal impressed on it.

There used to be an IC, mainly intended for burglar alarms, that had this sort of principle. It seems logical that someone could produce a fully integrated small RGB LED plus signal receiver at a price that makes hundreds of LEDs economical for the consumer market.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: LED displays

"[...] carriages carrying banks of (adjustable) LEDs acting as reading lights or as more ambient lighting."

DCC components would definitely do that for you. The DCC controllers do not handle large amounts of power - so that might limit how much light you could produce.

A link to commercial products:

http://www.digitrains.co.uk/ecommerce/dcc-systems/

A link to homebrew Arduino projects

http://modelrail.otenko.com/arduino/controlling-lots-of-leds-with-your-arduino

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Re: LED displays

from memory DMX is just an RS485 bus, normally supporting 512 channels each with 255 levels

an intelligent light (like a moving head) will use several channels, usually 2 for pan (coarse and fine), 2 for Tilt (same) one for shutter, one for colour, 2 for gobo's (patterns in the light beam) another 2 for gobo rotation or shake and a final one for prisms (split a single beam into multiple beams) so you can easily end up with one light using 11 channels

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Anonymous Coward

Re: LED displays

The Olympics ceremonies featured 637,191 addressable LEDs. Now the Olympics are done perhaps they'll sell them off for cheap.

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Happy

Re: LED displays

"The Olympics ceremonies featured 637,191 addressable LEDs."

Now that would be a Xmas decoration for the garden. Doubt if the electricity would be affordable though. Even my old Apple II controlled Xmas tree array of 250 x 1watt bulbs seems profligate now.

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Angel

Xmas displays

Not LED - but projections. Some people have all the fun.

http://www.triplewidemedia.com/2011/12/the-snowflake-and-the-bubble/

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Re: LED displays

That was one of my favourite things about the stadium! Looked fantastic on TV :)

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Boffin

Re: LED displays

This is a little more intelligent than DMX, and it has a cool name:

http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/firefly/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: LED displays - Firefly

Thanks for that Firefly link.

It definitely covers many of the angles that were sketched on the back of a fag packet back in the1990s.

LED integrated with electronics

Addressable

Two wire power and control

Computer cameras to calibrate where each light has been placed in 2D/3D.

Wonder if they can:

Vary individual intensity?

Do RGB?

Assign LEDs to groups for quicker changes?

Meet RFI constraints?

In the 1990s it was the "obvious" next development to avoid three days of evenly distributing 250 one watt lights on a fir tree - with channels for red, pink, green, blue, yellow, and a white sequenced chaser. Probably triggered by seeing the spec of a two-wire addressable "burglar alarm" IC. A rep was persuaded to provide two RGB LEDs from his new sample stock for experiments - but the overall unit cost was prohibitive at that time.

Maybe for Xmas 2013 there will be a big tree on the front lawn again. Physical things are often the most awkward hurdles. Emergency lashings in high winds at 3am became a nuisance in later years. The rarer problem of drunks needs more thought too. The latter appeared to have had a game involving plucking off the bulbs one by one. When they couldn't reach any more they attempted to carry the 13 feet tall tree away. Upset the neighbours' kids on Xmas Day when they woke to see the "magical" tree turned into unsalvageable wreckage on the lawn.

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GBE

GEC?

It's just GE or General Electric. There are a number of organisations that go by "GEC", but General Electric isn't one of them.

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Re: GEC?

Wrong one. The General Electric Company or GEC was a major British-based industrial conglomerate, involved in consumer and defence electronics, communications and engineering. It became Marconi.plc, and was then sold off piecemeal.

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Every time I switch my Kymco motorsccooters headlight on ...

I marvel at the thought that all this bright white light is from a 60 watt LED.

Now I know who to thank for all mt reduced electricity bills at home, too.

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