Recent developments in ultra-high-brightness LEDs have opened the door for the technology to invade territory traditionally dominated by the light bulb. Suppliers have made tremendous advances in packaging technologies and materials processing, leading to LEDs with luminous intensities of hundreds of candelas. These LEDs are now available in multiple spectral colors from several suppliers.
As LED performance improves, innumerable applications continue to emerge. In many cases, LEDs are superseding fluorescent and incandescent lamps in existing applications. High-brightness LEDs are appearing in the flash lamps of digital still cameras and camera phones, as well as in traffic signals and in brake lights in vehicles. They're also being considered for various specialty lighting applications, such as surgical lamps, machine vision, military applications, and concert lighting.
A huge potential market exists for high-brightness white LEDs in the multibillion-dollar general lighting market, too. However, LEDs aren't ready to replace conventional lamps in most general lighting applications. While LEDs are more reliable than other lighting sources, the upfront costs in lumens per dollar for LED lamps are still prohibitively expensive.
Successful penetration of this extremely large market would require vast improvements in power conversion efficiencies, color index, and light output per device. It also would need simultaneous drastic reductions in cost, measured in dollars per thousand lumens.
Still, these challenges should be conquered over the next few years, opening the door for significant growth. According to iSuppli estimates, the market for LEDs will grow from about $2.9 billion in 2002 to more than $6.8 billion in 2008.