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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The aesthetics of heat sinks

An interesting technical problem in SSL lighting is to design heat sinks that allow the lamp to function efficiently without 'cooking itself' in the process. A major jump in lighting technology is accompanied by a different set of challenges. Edison did not have to worry much about heat removal as the incandescent lamps that he worked with needed heat to work. Ditto with fluorescent technology, which actually underperforms in cold weather.

With solid state lighting it is a challenge to get the heat out of the die. The problem is very similar to the heat sinking in PC CPU's except that it needs to be a hell of a lot more reliable and cant use devices with moving parts.

One outcome of this is the extremely ugly and functional designs that we see in today's LED luminaries. As a major luminary OEM CEO confided in me, "What is the use of a 10 MM light source that needs a 6 inch heatsink? ? This is what we get for asking electronics engineers to design luminaries :) What the world of LED lighting needs is a kind of 'heat sink howard roark' (Ayn Rand, Fountainhead) who can extract the beauty of a structural form without resorting to ornamentation. In this we were shocked at the parallels between what ayn rand describes as a structure or design being aesthetic without resorting to embellishments and non-functional decorations and the precise need in modern lighting design (at least i was :). The philosophy behind the statement is what is driving heat sink development currently. The heat sinks available today are very functional, beautifully designed, have thermal maps simulated on the best of software but lack the genius of a Roark in bringing the natural beauty of the form out. This will become our next challenge, beauty in functional form so that it can be outside the box rather than being hidden away inside your luminary.

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