Recently, Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) director Robert F. Karlicek Jr. proposed a challenge: Find a way to produce large sheets of precisely oriented unpackaged LEDs without having to pick up and place them one at a time. The challenge was accepted by Rensselaer Professor James Lu, a faculty member in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering. Lu 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 spin out startup company SelfArray.

Once SelfArray was joined by experienced CEO Clinton Ballinger, the startup 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,” said Karlicek of the startup’s success, which is the fifth spinout company by LESA faculty and students. “And SelfArray just announced receipt of a National Science Foundation SBIR Phase II award to continue its work.”

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,” said 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 LED systems.

In April, SelfArray’s director of product development, Mark Durniak, will be presenting at this year’s members’ only Industry-Academia Days. 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 startup company.