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Car's 'glass' roof by day becomes interior light at night. Oh OLEDs!

Car's 'glass' roof by day becomes interior light at night. Oh OLEDs!

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How have we driven without this? Chemical and lighting giants BASF and Philips team up to add style and light to tomorrow's automobiles, from dusk to dawn. What's it look like to you?

The photo above is a bit of Rorschach test, in part because many of us have never seen anything quite like it. Depending on your view, it might appear to be a futuristic dentist's chair, or perhaps even a new millennium toilet (we've been known here at SmartPlanet to provide such visual treats).

Or mabye you're seeing it for what it is. According to German chemical giant BASF, the image shows what the inside of your car might look like one day.

Focus on the roof. The glass-effect, hexagonal openings allow a clear view upwards by day. Open the car door or push a button come night time, and they provide interior illumination - having been charged up by solar cells, nonetheless. BASF developed the dimples in partnership with Holland's Philips Lighting, using OLED, or organic light emitting diode, technology.

OLEDs are swathes of material that emit light when excited by a current. They and their counterparts - LEDs, which are single, pointed light sources - represent an energy efficient, low carbon, lighting future. OLEDs, especially flexible OLEDs, augur radical new possibilities in lighting, gadgets, design, architecture, construction and fashion, as they could be built into the fabric of gadget screens, furniture, buildings, clothes or whatever.

But flexible OLEDs are not quite ready for prime time. Developers first need to improve their energy efficiency and resolution, enlarge them, and make them lighter weight and lower cost.

They're getting closer. Samsung has has said it hopes to deliver a foldable phone this year, followed soon by a bendy tablet PC. And Siemens this month said it had developed  a small flexible OLED that is more efficient than a halogen bulb. Although the Siemens advance was in the lighting area and not for gadget screens per se, it seems that progress in one area should benefit the other.

Back to the photo above. The golf ball roof looks a bit of a mess to me, neither fish nor fowl. Give me an entire transparent ceiling - something approaching a Jetsons' bubble perhaps - or leave the hexagons on the drawing room floor.

How do you see it?

Note: Corrected at 1:40 p.m. PST Jan. 20, changing "pentagon" to "hexagon," thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who kindly wrote in. I must have suffered an optical illusion when I counted sides earlier today - perhaps in the spirit of Rorschach!-MH

Rorschach test provided by BASF.

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure