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Technology Science

Hacking the Fluorescent Light 284

DynaSoar writes "MSNBC reports on an elegant hack performed on the common fluorescent tube. By mixing phosphorescent material with the usual white fluorescent material, American Environmental Products has developed a tube that continues to glow when shut off. Originally intended for submarines, and then used in places where terrorists could disrupt services, they are also perfect for power outages, providing some light so you don't have to thrash around in the dark looking for your candles and flashlights. Since the 'hack' is inside the tube, they can also be removed from their fixtures and carried around, as well as provide light even if they're shattered."
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Hacking the Fluorescent Light

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  • by cosmic_0x526179 ( 209008 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:00AM (#13257933)
    OMG, all they need to do is put a hard-shield around the glass tube ;P
    • Re:Light Sabres ! (Score:3, Informative)

      by cdrudge ( 68377 ) *
      According to the end of the article, they've already done it...well...maybe not lightsaber quality but at least enough to survive a hammer impact.
    • Re:Light Sabres ! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Nah, all you need to make your own light sabre is some jellied gasoline and some empty fluorescent tubes. What could go wrong []?
    • And install speakers that make "vumph" noises. (hey, you find a better way to describe lightsaber sounds)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:01AM (#13257943)
    how do you turn these lights off.
  • by Exsam ( 768226 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:02AM (#13257945)
    but how is this a hack? I mean its not something we could do ourselves at home and while its really nifty I don't see its overall usefulness to the everyday person for the cost. Wouldn't it just be cheaper to install glow in the dark plastic strips along the hallways and such? Just my $0.02.
    • But that'd make your house a little bit too Star Trek-ish for me..

      Hallways would be the best use for these, but also in rooms where you don't want to get stuck if the power goes out, like a storage room or a kitchen.

      It may be cheaper the low-tech way, but damned if it wouldn't look cool.
    • Extra UV (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:24AM (#13258056) Homepage Journal
      There's a serious lack of actual data in the articles, but my suspicion is that by putting glow-in-the-dark stuff on the inside of the tube it benefits from all the extra UV that you get inside the tube.

      A fluorescent lamp glows by discharging electricity into a gas which then gives off UV. The phosphorescent coating inside the tube takes the UV and turns it into light.

      The glow-in-the-dark strips also respond to UV light, but in a way that stores and releases the energy later. You could just put up strips, but only a tiny percentage of the UV light from the tubes would hit them; the rest would leak out into the room. (And they're designed to give off as little UV as possible, since it's unhealthy and wasteful; you want it as visible light.)

      So by effectively putting the UV strips inside the tube, you charge them up when the light is on. You'd have to cover the walls with UV strips to get the same effect outside the lamp.

      For everyday people? Probably not. Not in your home, at least, where you probably want it dark when you turn off the lights. But in office buildings, these could be a nice alternative to the emergency lights that are required in most places. No extra wiring; you just fit fancy bulbs into the existing fluorescent fixtures.
      • Re:Extra UV (Score:3, Informative)

        So by effectively putting the UV strips inside the tube, you charge them up when the light is on. You'd have to cover the walls with UV strips to get the same effect outside the lamp.

        You still won't get a comparable effect - the phosphor and glass envelope does a pretty good job of filtering the UV such that only a fraction is radiated out into the room. Having the phosphor inside the tube exposes it to a *much* higher UV level, and most phosphorescent compounds respond a whole lot better to UV than to
    • These were my thoughts exactly. To me the work hack implies a do-it-yourself workaround. None of this applies here.
  • by acidradio ( 659704 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:03AM (#13257952)
    While this is a great product, I can see people like my granny going nuts over this. She can't handle the TV anymore (called me because it wouldn't work - I guess it has to be plugged in!), the telephone (has no idea how voicemail works, thinks that I am my answering machine). When lightbulbs exist that won't turn off, that might just be over the top.
  • by Tiberius_Fel ( 770739 ) <fel AT empirereborn DOT net> on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:03AM (#13257957)
    I am installing these in my fleet of nuclear subs right away! :P
  • Of course (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "...used in places where terrorists could disrupt services,..."

    Nothing like a little shilling for that fat government contract, yes?
  • Bleh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LearnToSpell ( 694184 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:04AM (#13257962) Homepage
    ...used in places where terrorists could disrupt services, they are also perfect for power outages...

    Because we all know that terrorist attacks are way more common than power outages. I hate this "War on Terror." It's the major reason for doing anything at this point, and it's not a particularly good one.
  • Portable -- nice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Vandil X ( 636030 )
    From TFA: "The tubes can even be removed from their fixture and carried around as portable light sources."

    Now this is impressive. Unscrew the bulb/tube and walk with it to safety. Very nice idea.

    "Even if the tubes are shattered by an explosion, the shards will still provide light"

    A smart idea. Also can serve as a sort of "bread crumbs" way for people to explore in dark passageways and find their way back out. Kind of hard to clean up shattered glass tubing.
  • by egburr ( 141740 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:07AM (#13257973) Homepage
    I always wanted a light bulb that I couldn't turn off. I suppose I could just remove the switch and connect the wires, but this solution is so much simpler.
  • reinventing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nozzo ( 851371 )
    This is an excellent example of advancing something that we take for granted. Although the idea of carrying one of these is really bad considering the thin glass walls of the tube, as a safety device it makes sense for these to be fitted to shops, warehouses and offices.
  • Erm.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jicksta ( 760596 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:10AM (#13257987) Homepage
    Guys, I think the big reason this hasn't caught on already is that it would mean your lights could never be turned off instantly.

    Your room would remain lit up for the few hours it takes for the glowing substance to completely discharge.

    As neat as this feature is, I certainly wouldn't want it in my house.
    • Re:Erm.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by fbjon ( 692006 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:39AM (#13258100) Homepage Journal
      Yes but it's great for preventing murder mysteries!
    • Re:Erm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Staplerh ( 806722 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:40AM (#13258103) Homepage
      As neat as this feature is, I certainly wouldn't want it in my house.

      Correct, it'd be a horrible addition to a standard house. In some circumstances, where the lights never turn off, this adds another level of safety.

      For example, I work in a bizzare housing complex near a Canadian public university. There are no windows, few doors and in many hallways absolutely zero sources of external light. While we do have emergency lights for power outages, tubes like these would certainly be useful to give confidence that one could count on a very low level of light to navigate within the first hour or so of a blackout.
      • Re:Erm.. (Score:2, Funny)

        by JediTrainer ( 314273 )
        For example, I work in a bizzare housing complex near a Canadian public university.

        This wouldn't be U of Toronto Scarborough Campus, would it? That whole place is a freaking bomb shelter.
    • Your room would remain lit up for the few hours it takes for the glowing substance to completely discharge.

      Just anticipate when you need to turn the lights off, and flip the switch a few hours before. :)
    • Your room would remain lit up for the few hours it takes for the glowing substance to completely discharge.

            Ahh but you forget good ol' American know how. See our NEXT patent application is for our "Glo Lite" shield. Press a button and a cover rotates around and covers the light, plunging your room in total darkness. The adapter and shield kit will be available for $399.95 per bulb.
  • by thewiz ( 24994 ) * on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:10AM (#13257989)
    What a bright idea!

    I'll be here all night, ladies and gents!
  • ...Originally intended for submarines, and then used in places where terrorists could disrupt services...

    The terrorists could also use the same technology to continue their work after a [US] strike takes out power.

    But the question is whether this is the same science in glow sticks or one Catholic rosary I have seen that glows in the dark.

  • Found the patent (Score:5, Informative)

    by GoNINzo ( 32266 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <ozNINoG>> on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:19AM (#13258029) Journal
    There's more detail on what he's doing with Patent 6,917,154 []. It's definately not a hack, it's just a new (and obviously expensive) process. Interesting quote:
    The after-glow phosphor of the scotopic after-glow lamp of the present invention is selected with a hyperbolic decay rate dropping to approximately ten (10%) percent of its initial brightness in about six minutes and to one-tenth that in an hour.
    Anyway, read up, interesting stuff.
    • Ah, I see. They coat the inside of the bulb with large words, rendering it incomprehensible for up to an hour after the power goes out.

    • It's definately not a hack, it's just a new (and obviously expensive) process.

      Yes I see he managed to use his "word for the day", scotopic, about 50 times in the application. That MUST be expensive and highly technological, until you realize that scotopia only means:

      "The ability to see in darkness or dim light; dark-adapted vision."

      So the "scotopic enhanced phosphor" is any phosphor that glows in the dark and lets you see. Nothing new there. As for the hyperbolic decay,
    • scotopic

      What? What about SCO? They're suing the inventor of the lightbulb now?
    • I wouldn't call it a new process.

      One of my fellow artists made a tube exactly like the article describes. He just got some after-glow powder, dusted the inside of a neon tube with it, and filled it with neon.

      There's not much of an intuitive leap involved in this. Once you say "Well, I wonder what I can coat the inside of a neon tube with other than a normal phosphor" there's not many answers that come to you.
    • Re:Found the patent (Score:2, Informative)

      by dnamaners ( 770001 )
      Heres a brief overview for those that hate to read patent apps.

      The word "scotopic" you seen in the app. refers to reduced illumination or reduced completeness of the wave lengths of light used to make white light. If I have "scotopic vision" it means I can function in low light.

      These guys mixed up a set of additional phosphors that that they blended to produce this afterglow effect and tuned ti to be a nice green(sense human eyes are most sensitive to green) so you won't notice the slow re
    • Sorry, fella. But seriously, there is prior art to this one.

      Read on...

      In March 11, 1986, a college dormitory had a power outage in the middle of the nite. Imagine a hallway without windows, just dorm doors.

      Anyway, there is a lone light fixture that illuminated the middle of the hall. Naturally, like moth, students began to congregate around the lite.

      It remained bright enough for some of the students to hold conversation in sign language.

      It stay alit for four hours before the power was restored. More tha
  • by CaptainBogus ( 816440 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:25AM (#13258057)
    I have one in my bedroom here in Japan for the last four years. It is a ring florescent tube that glows like a night light after the light goes out. The light is made by NEC and is called Hotarukku (a play on the word hotaru, which is Japanese for firefly). It seems they launched the product in March 2000. [] (Japanese) gives specs and has some pics showing the room lit with the light on and off.
  • by crovira ( 10242 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:26AM (#13258060) Homepage
    This is a solution desperately looking for a problem. It isn't even a good one. It could only work in basements and office buildings, at night, if there are no windows nearby. (I presume you would be able to see your way around by the steady glow of the raging fires shining in through the broken windows.)

    This was indeed a hack and so is the guy.

    Didn't he ever ask himself "Why?"
    • Um emergency lighting. Many public places are required to have emergency lighting that is able to continue to give out sufficient light for people to exit the buiding after power has been cut. Currently these lights use separate self-contained units with a lead acid battery and low voltage bulbs. This is a bit simpler and quicker to install, just change the fluorescence tubes.
  • Yay. So now I wont need an extension cord when I play with my light saber any more. Because we all play with a light saber now and then, right guys? Guys?
    • Because we all play with a light saber now and then, right guys? Guys?

            Is that what you say you are doing when you are downloading pr0n? Playing with the light-saber eh, you dirty little boy...
  • By turning the light on and off and using the afterglow would it be possible to get a lower overall energy usage?
  • The vapour in fluorescent tubes is mercury (Hg). Very bad to breathe, and perilous to touch too (unless you wash hard, and even potent cleansers aren't designed to remove heavy metal contamination).

    That's why they need phosphorescent coating in the first place: the excited Hg vapour emits UV, and it's actually the phosphors that 'fluoresce' visible EM.

    Competent safety procedures include vacating the area of a fluorescent bulb break for at least ten minutes, followed by thorough cleanup and HAZMAT disposal
  • by durandal61 ( 705295 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @11:45AM (#13258133) Homepage Journal
    A company produces an interesting variation of a product that has been mass-produced for decades, and it's called a hack? And how did you manage to get your shiny new favourite word, "terrorist" in a summary on flourescent tubes? Let me read that again. Interesting story, puerile summary.
    • And how did you manage to get your shiny new favourite word, "terrorist" in a summary on flourescent tubes?

      Everyone knows that people who buy incandescent lights are terrorists. Studies have shown that every single terrorist has installed a light bulb at some time in their lives.

      Personally, I applaud people who use the word terrorist for everything. The sooner the word is abused, the sooner people will stop using it and things can go back to normal. If you don't a
  • does it involve gasoline and soap? 'Cause if so, it's been done and it doesn't work [] too good.
  • by grozzie2 ( 698656 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @12:19PM (#13258304)
    Executive Summary: Marketing to the traditional 'hot button' market bullets of efficiency and ecological awareness is no longer effective in the marketplace. Recent changes in marketplace mindset require an adjustment in marketing philosophy that will allow for increased margins on traditional commodity items. Initial trials of the new marketing concepts have proven very effective, and an overall shift of marketing strategy is necessary for the company to continue operations.

    Problem: Domestically produced commodity items are no longer cost competetive in the marketplace. Increased competition from overseas manufacturing is producing insurmountable pricing pressure on commodity items. Company is approaching insolvency.

    Solution: Minor cosmetic changes to commodity product manufacturing process. Re-write marketing material to reflect the change, emphasis on the 'terrorist' application. Increase sale price dramatically to reflect the new 'terrorist' application.

    Results: Small increase in sales volume, substantial improvement of product margins. Financial insolvency averted.

    Conclusions: Terrorist hysteria is an effective marketing tool. Properly exploited in the marketing literature, the terrorist hysteria can breath new financial life into any product that is no longer producing adaquate margins through traditional channels.

    Future Risk Analysis: A fundamental shift in marketing strategy brings with it inherent market risks. The major risk of this conceptual change is that the public mindset will begin to discard the 'terrorist threat', rendering increased marketing efforts in this area ineffective. This risk is deemed minimal at this time, the majority of the expenditures required to maintain the public mindset are being undertaken by the federal government, with a virtually unlimited budget for this marketing effort. This paradigm shift by our company is essentially parasite marketing where our relatively small marketing budget is being used to leverage the expenditures of the federal government. This strategy should remain effective for a minimum of one election cycle, so we should see improvements in the bottom line for at least the next 10 quarters. The primary risk moving forward is that the federal government expenditures to promote terrorist hysteria are reduced, with a resultant loss of marketplace mindset for this strategy. This is a relatively small risk moving forward, and partially offset by hundreds of companies such as our own, all focussed on re-working marketing strategies to promote and extend the terrorist hysteria.

    Recommendations: Marketing budget needs to be re-allocated. Television advertising should only be purchased on networks whose news organizations properly emphasize the terrorist threat. The same for print media advertising. The marketing department needs to re-allocate human resources, emphasis on 'product efficiency' needs to be lowered, with appropriate staffing reductions. A new team needs to be established to emphasize the 'security' aspect of the product. A 'threat analyst' should be hired, and put in charge of this new team, who will be responsible for producing white papers emphasizing the 'security' aspect of the product, with particular detail on the 'terrorist' aspect.

  • Efficiency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BarryNorton ( 778694 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @12:44PM (#13258452)
    I wonder how much the (powered) light output is diminished for a feature that will be used for a vanishingly small part of the useful lifetime of each tube...
  • ...make floursecent tubes that emit a decent color and intensity of light I might consider using them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 06, 2005 @01:05PM (#13258549)
    In terms of annoying flicker from fluorescent lights, this will be like adding a capacitor across "noisy" DC current to smooth it out -- fluorescent light will have smoother, more natural look without the headache-inducing flicker.
  • Uses (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tkdog ( 889567 )
    Possible uses: Nightlights - turn the kids light off and it glows for a while so they go to sleep (you'd still need the little light on the way to the bathroom). Folks are willing to pay extra for baby stuff. 1 out of 5 (or 10) of the lights in a commercial or institutional (esp schools) setting. I was in a cubical farm the other day and the lights went out. A few glowing tubes would have made it much more pleasant for folks to sit around goofing off. Stairways. Hospitals - the one I worked at had t
  • by cei ( 107343 )
    they can also be removed from their fixtures and carried around

    Great!!! My "Christopher Lambert in Subway" Halloween costume is complete!!!
  • recharable battery (Score:2, Insightful)

    by notjim ( 879031 )
    cool as this sounds, its over engineered, a recharble battery and battery powered bulb could do the same.
    • I think this solution is much more elegant than a battery-based one. This has no extra parts compared to a regular fluorescent light, whereas the battery system has several pieces that could break. And a rechargeable battery will go bad over time.
  • I sense... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by isny ( 681711 )
    I sense a large number of Star Wars related accidents in the not too distant future.
  • No more flickering! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TerranFury ( 726743 ) on Saturday August 06, 2005 @01:57PM (#13258816)

    I hate existing flourescent bulbs. They give me a headache. This phosphor which glows continuously should help to reduce flicker.

    Even a much shorter-lived phosphor would be good: If one could develop a phosphor which decays at about the rate that a lightbulb filament cools down, then we get both flicker-free lighting AND essentially instantaneous turn-off.

  • Well, it has one use (Score:3, Interesting)

    by markass530 ( 870112 ) <> on Saturday August 06, 2005 @02:00PM (#13258831) Homepage
    As a former submariner, I can attest to it's usefullness on a submarine. The only places that are dark are berthing, and Control, if we are doing night ops. The cost isn't prohibitive on a submarine, so that doesn't matter. There already is a emergency lighting system in place, that runs of the battery on loss of AC, but it would be great to not need that right away, and save some of the juice in the battery.
  • Hey! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by waltew ( 764415 )
    Finally we get those cool umbrellas from Blade Runner.

The absent ones are always at fault.