Intelligent Energy

LEDs set 'fire' to Olympic rings in London

Posting in Design

Fans of Olympic technology can think of the London 2012 games as the LED championships. But with all that use, are they really saving energy?

LEDs can emit a cold light. But here, they create molten steel. Look out below!

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Fans of Olympic technology can think of the ongoing London 2012 games as the LED championships.

So many of the great visual effects of last Friday's  opening ceremony relied on the versatility and controllability of light emitting diodes - those tiny semiconductors known for their energy efficiency and, as the Olympics are showing, for their transformation of public lighting design and display.

Assuming you're one of the billions of people who watched or who have seen replays: You know those five giant Olympic rings that descended as molten steel into the show's fiery industrial scene? Well, they were lit to liquid metal perfection by LEDs, according to an article in London's Sunday Times (I'd provide a link, but Rupert Murdoch makes it available only to paying subsribers; I read the dead tree version).

Likewise, the crowd-turned-giant-digital-display took its magic from LEDs mounted on screens in between the 80,000 seats. LEDs also graced the undulating wings of the bicycle doves.

There's no escaping London's LEDs. Here they are on Tower Bridge.

And how extraordinary that a collection of LEDs created such a life-like image of the Queen greeting James Bond, aka actor Daniel Craig in Buckingham Palace...Just kidding! In a television production coup, that regal image was, of course, the actual Queen making her acting debut in the flesh.

Oh? Am I allowed to say "Queen" and "flesh" in the same sentence? Hmmm. Probably not. I think I just sentenced myself to time in the notorious Tower of London.

But that's okay, because they're likely to haul me into a cell with a view of Tower Bridge which is all lit up with, guess what? LEDs!!

It's not all good. As I've said before, my eyes haven't yet acclimatized to the LED hues, which sometimes can look about as warm as a refrigerator. I've noticed that with some of the TV shots of Olympic Stadium. Depending on which of its ever-changing color schemes is on camera, its palette can evoke "digital display blue" or "control panel red."

That's one for the industry to work on. Maybe by 2016 it can win some medals in that department.

Finally, this thought: Each of those LEDs sure do use a lot less electricity than a conventional incandescent bulb would. On the other hand, we're using a lot more of them. What, I wonder, is the actual energy savings of that?

Photo: Molten rings from Nick J. Webb via Flickr. Tower Bridge from Richard Chivers via GE and Reformer Films.

More public displays of LED affection on SmartPlanet:

The ABC's of LEDs on SmartPlanet:

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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