What's your background? I was an electrical engineer from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 1996, I got interested in lighting and went to a trade show—Lighting Dimensions. I saw the length that people were going through to get a little bit of colored light in various smaller spaces. We knew the possibilities of LEDs, and we formed Color Kinetics to make that process easier for people.
Color Kinetics is now part of Royal Philips Electronics. What are the advantages in having an international corporation behind you? The large scale and the global scope of Philips allows us to access markets and customers that we were not able to before, as well as some technologies that Philips was working on prior to Color Kinetics.
What are the chief benefits of LED technology? LEDs are small, and they are relatively efficient for colored lighting applications. Recently, those benefits have translated towards white lighting as well. We are able to put LED lighting devices in places that normal lights wouldn't fit. Many of these are hard-to-access spaces where we trade on the longevity of LEDs as well.
A lot of unnecessary baggage comes with many commercially available power solutions for LEDs, because they have been designed for powering things like computers and other electronic devices. LEDs operate somewhat differently, and we use those characteristics to simplify the power systems.
You're talking about Powercore, your invention for LED power control and conversion. We use Powercore to simplify data distribution in controlled lights. A retrofit at Boston's Old North Church involved simply plugging in Powercore strips on top of an existing molding.
How do you balance cutting-edge developments to permit simple solutions like that? We simplify what our users must do and understand about LEDs. We spent an incredible amount of time and effort to simplify our systems, reduce the number of wires, or reduce the side effects of our systems. We include things like power-factor correction, which is a key component of Powercore. It's a means of removing the difficulties that happen when switch-mode power supplies are used in a large installation.
Previous winners of the National Inventor of the Year Award aren't necessarily household names, but their inventions are. They include the cell phone, magnetic resonance imaging, and the artificial heart. Where would you place Powercore technology among these? Similar to those inventions, many of the technologies are fairly complex and unknown by many people. Powercore will be branded within Philips, but the average consumer will most likely be unaware of the complexity and many of the benefits that Powercore provides.
How do you feel about your relatively anonymous role? It's wonderful to walk around and see products I have designed in various installations, but I'm not terribly concerned if the average person doesn't know who I am or exactly what's going on inside.
You've contributed to more than 50 issued patents, with more pending. What are some of the other things that you've invented? Many involve applications of lighting and its combination with media. A surprising number are involved with making the setup, installation, and operation of LED lighting as simple as possible.
LED lighting is now ubiquitous in architecture. What's next, and what do you see as your role in developing it? LED lighting is slowly moving into the white lighting space. As with color, we are starting with lower wattage white lighting applications and we're moving up. Over the next few years, I believe that we will see penetration into higher and higher wattage spaces, ultimately culminating in the replacement of the incandescent lamp in many applications.