LESA Center Director Robert Karlicek proposed a challenge: Find a way to produce large sheets of precisely oriented unpackaged LEDs without having to pick up and place each one at a time. The challenge was accepted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor James Lu who created a radically new LED self-assembly technology using diamagnetic levitation to create large arrays of LEDs without touching a single chip. This novel approach to solving large scale LED packing problems has the potential to drastically reduce cost associated with manufacturing narrow pixel pitch (NPP) LED displays, and was significant enough to spinout start-up company SelfArray.
Once SelfArray was joined by experienced CEO Clinton Ballinger, the start-up received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award and hired LESA doctoral graduate, Mark Durniak (‘16), to drive the technology development work.
“This is a great example of what engineering powerhouses like LESA are designed to do; create an entrepreneurial environment where researchers can innovate together, solve important technical challenges, and create real economic value,” says Karlicek of the start-up’s success, which is the 5th spinout company by LESA faculty and students. “And SelfArray just announced receipt of an NSF SBIR Phase II award to continue its work,” he adds.
SelfArray is revolutionizing LED assembly processes for manufacturing large high-resolution video walls, large indoor displays and lighting fixtures. “SelfArray is assembling large LED subsystems hundreds of times faster and with lower capital equipment costs than is common in LED assembly today,” says Lu, who also serves as SelfArray’s chief technology officer. “Large arrays of perfectly positioned LEDs can be created at a very high speed by levitating chips [diamagnetically] into their precise working location without slow, single chip placement equipment. The result is a lower cost display that is far more energy efficient than what has been possible with LCD or OLED technology.”
Though the SelfArray team has a way to go before the display modules are ready for market, the SBIR Phase I produced research results generating strong investment interest from financial backers, including several angel investors, eager for the promising technology to infiltrate the commercial markets. With the SBIR Phase II, the company is closer than ever to realizing its vision of self-assembling LEDs systems.
SelfArray Director of Product Development Mark Durniak will be presenting at this year’s members only Industry-Academia Days in April. This LESA sponsored event is open to the center’s members both full and affiliated. Durniak will share insights into the SelfArray technology, benchmarking strategies, and best practices for the successful launch of a research based start-up company.
About the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Programs
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards nearly $190 million annually to startups and small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal potential. The non-dilutive grants support research and development (R&D) across all areas of science and technology helping companies de-risk technology for commercial success. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $7 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.
About SelfArray, Inc.
About SelfArray, Inc.: SelfArray is a new, high-tech company in Troy, NY developing revolutionary technology that provides the missing link for manufacturing direct-view LED displays and LED lighting sheets with low cost and high speed LED assembly. Our technology enables fast, accurate self-assembly of a wide range of LED sizes into pixel arrays that form the building blocks for narow-pixel pitch displays and other applications. SelfArray is rapidly expanding and is seeking industrial partners to help accelerate commercialization. To learn more, go to www.selfarray.com.
About the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA)
Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the LESA is an interdisciplinary, multi-university center developing “Smart Lighting Systems that Think™. The Center engages faculty members, graduate students, research staff, and undergraduates to work on research leading to smart lighting systems with adaptive and controllable properties that will change the way society uses lighting. The Center joins academia, industry, and government in partnership to produce transformational engineered systems, along with engineering graduates who are adept at innovation and primed for leadership in the global economy. The LESA ERC is headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and partners with Boston University, the University of New Mexico, and Thomas Jefferson University to achieve its objectives. To learn more, go to www.lesa.rpi.edu.
About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to www.rpi.edu.