Flooring gets futuristic with the launch of Philips and Desso’s LED carpet, which can transmit signs, logos and even moving images, right under your feet
After 15 patents and two-and-a-half years of development, the collaboration between flooring company Desso and technology giant Philips has come to fruition. Well… almost. Together they have created carpets with embedded LED technology that will allow architects and designers to light up floors with anything from direction arrows and room numbers to entire screens showing the news. The product is being installed at pilot projects in the UK, France and the Netherlands to get feedback for final tweaks before it is launched on a broader scale later this year.
Final touches are important for such a pioneering bit of kit, as it could be the difference between a dead end and a global success, says Ed Huibers from Philips. “It’s a completely new concept, and patented, but there is competition. Other companies have tried to weave fibre optics into carpet, but it’s been on the market ten years and you’ve probably never seen it, because I don’t think it’s a realistic, scalable idea. Putting wires into carpet tiles will make production much more complicated; if you want to disturb that process, from a cost and scalability point of view, you’ll get nowhere.”
So Philips and Desso’s solution is to keep them separate, with two units developed hand in hand. The carpet has a specially adapted version of Desso’s recyclable EcoBase backing that allows light to pass through clearly, while the super-thin LED panels are built to be walked on, enclosed enough to protect against coffee spillages (without overheating), while still producing bright, sharp light. Between both company’s factories, the entire manufacturing chain is in-house.
Also, unlike the LED strips you see on aeroplanes, once the lights are off, they’re hidden. “In the end, we want to people to be surprised, inspired, guided – they see the effect without knowing what the technology is,” says Desso’s Stef van Ham. “Plus, if the interior is redesigned, the carpet can be changed without having to invest in new LED units, so the product has a longer life.”
Desso and Philips see the flooring being used in four ways: information, for example logos or branding images; inspiration, with decorative patterns and video; direction, with arrows or room numbers; and safety, with emergency signage for evacuations.
It has been produced as a modular system, each module differing in complexity (and presumably cost) to be combined depending on the application. The simpler options are a symbol – a directional arrow, for example – or a backlit film, for a sharp logo image. It gets more complicated if you want a light kit, comprising lines and curves to create whatever shape you want, or a matrix, which is basically a screen under the floor to display the news, or the stock exchange perhaps.
Since the project began, LED technology has improved so dramatically that the project continues to evolve, and the exact details are not set in stone. “The LEDs we used when we started are not the ones we use now,” says Huibers. “They are becoming more efficient every year: the cost is going down and the power and brightness is increasing. If you gave us an order today for use in a year, we wouldn’t tell you what LEDs we’re going to use because they don’t exist yet.”
Tech Treads: Four more examples of hi-tech flooring
The pattern of Papilio’s Hexa rug is made from phosphorescent yarn, which works like other glow-in-the-dark substances by absorbing light during the day and re-emitting it at night (the glow lasts for six to eight hours). The Belgian brand is known for its unusual materials – it also supplies rugs made from recycled tents, sweet wrappers, fan belts and bike inner tubes.
The ASB GlassFloor uses LEDs underneath custom-made glass panels (supported by a metal structure), meaning the entire floor can potentially be used as a giant screen. In a sports arena, the light-up court markings can be changed according to the sport being played, and display the score. In a contract setting, it could be used for directional signage, branding and mood lighting.
Bolon started using jacquard weaving techniques on its PVC flooring a couple of years back, launching the Create tile in 2012. Further developments with the process have now come to fruition with the Silence collection, which made its debut at Stockholm Furniture Fair in February. The way the material is woven allows its designers to play with the structure of the flooring to create 3D effects and reflect light.
Forbo invested heavily in its factories last year, with one major result being the Back to the Floor scheme, a closed-loop manufacturing chain where it collects old Forbo flooring and recycles it into new products. Also, many of its products (such as Coral Welcome, pictured) are made from a 100% regenerated yarn called Econyl, made from reprocessed industrial and consumer waste such as fishing nets, and have a backing made from recycled plastic bottles, making it BREEAM A/A+ rated.