If you haven't noticed yet, it's increasingly looking like the traditional incandescent light bulb will soon go the way of the passenger pigeon. The latest shot in that battle was fired by electronics powerhouse KoninklijkePhilips (NYSE: PHG ) , which announced significantly expanded use of "alternative lighting" technologies in automotive applications.
Cars are home to many lights, from headlights and turn signals to brake lights and interior illumination. There's even a light inside most glove boxes. According to Philips, most of these can now be replaced with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, bringing higher power efficiency, truer color representation, and a longer useful life, all at once. In most cases, it's as simple as dropping an LED bulb or array of bulbs in where the glowing metal-filament bulb used to live.
The company is touting partners like Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , Audi, and Porsche, with the technology already shipping in production cars from brands such as Cadillac, Lexus, and Jaguar.
You may have seen automotive LED lights already, though not on a car. At least here in Florida, LED traffic lights are in wide use today. And LEDs' robust, low-power, high-brightness nature has helped the technology creep into many other uses, too. Just around my own house, I have high-efficiency LEDs in my flashlight, on my bicycle, in the Christmas lights, and in several nightlights.
Philips isn't breaking entirely new ground here; it and Cree (Nasdaq: CREE ) , among others, have been providing LEDs for car applications for years already. What's new here is that the technology now produces lights bright and resilient enough to work in many areas still considered the domain of halogen or xenon light bulbs. As each new application reaches commercial feasibility, the potential revenue grows a bit. It's all good.
LED replacements for the standard light bulb in your home aren't cheap enough to replace the standard model -- yet. But LEDs aren't the only replacement technology waiting in the wings. Organic LEDs (OLED) promise even better efficiency than LEDs, in new formats that cover an entire wall or ceiling. Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL ) and Cambridge Display (Nasdaq: OLED ) are both working on this sort of application, and Universal already has government contracts in place.
Companies like Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK ) , which holds many OLED patents, are waiting to take advantage of the coming sea change, too. The opportunity is large, and there's room for several players. Pardon the pun, but I have to say that the future for next-generation lighting technology is bright.
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Fool contributorAnders Bylund'sMP3 player has an OLED display, too. He owns shares in Universal Display, but holds no position in any other company discussed here.Foolish disclosurekeeps you from fumbling in the dark. Check out Anders' holdingsherefor further enlightenment.