Germany is aiming to become a leader in organic light emitting devices (OLED), which could one day give us wallpaper and car paint that changes its color on demand.
Hmmm, what color should the living room be today?
You like your car, but would like it even more if it could change color. Your wallpaper bores you. Wouldn't it be great if you could turn into a giant computer screen or television and then back again?
These may sound like silly, unrealistic wishes, but they are just two of many possible applications in the field of light technology. With its seemingly limitless applications, light technology is attracting the interest of the german government.
The Research Ministry as well the Economy Ministry see light as a growth industry that Germany should be at the cutting edge in OLED. Organic light emitting devices are elements made from extremely thin organic polymer layers. They look like plastic wrap and when a current is sent through them, light is produced.
"Companies see the chance to build upon Germany's already good position in the world market," said Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn. "It's a potentially big growth market and we hope that we can win back market share with the next generation of displays."
Until now, OLED's have been used primarily in cell phone displays, car radios or digital cameras. That should change. The future generation will have displays, for example, that you can roll up and put in a pocket.
Investing in research
Optical technology is already being used for making extremely fine measurements. This device is from Saaarbrücken's Institut for New Materials
The government has already started up a €100 million ($130 million) initiative to support research and production of OLED's. Firms like Merck, Osram, Philips and Samsung have pledged to invest over €500 million.
And for good reason. Sales in 2003 reached a modest €260 million. In 2008, the industry estimates they will shoot up to €8.45 billion. That potential market has encouraged Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement that the industry will create high-paying jobs in the country.
"We can only secure the future of Germany, that means maintain the quality of living for upcoming generations or at least give them the chance to do so, if we can increase Germany's innovative capability," said Clement.
Already, one million jobs in Germany are directly or indirectly connected to the industry. Producers of lasers, optical components and systems already provide a strong foundation -- though by some accounts it is not strong enough. Industry insiders have voiced worries about the number of qualified workers Germany has to offer.
More qualified personnel
For qualified individuals, however, the jobs could help secure the high standard of living Germany is used to. Mid-sized companies are predicting job growth of 40 percent in the sector.
Thomas Keidel, company manager of the Mahr-Gruppe in Göttingen, is convinced of the industry's strong potential. He believes that optical technology must be a pillar of the government's innovation policies. One major area of support would be tax incentives, he said.
Also, start-up and venture capital must attracted to Germany because, according to Clement, "the venture capital market in Germany has to be made more competitive." An umbrella fund should be started from which startups can be financed, Clement said.
If the market grows too quickly, however, it may face a labor shortage. The German Association for Machine and Systems Builders said there are already not enough qualified personnel; one way to combat this would be to support top-notch university programs for engineers, the group said.