How the Digital Age has us re-thinking the victor of the AC/DC wars.

Luis Suau shows Robb Boyd how to plug in a light. TechWiseTV Digital Ceiling
Luis Suau shows Robb Boyd how to plug in a light.

Remember when gas lighting gave way to electricity as the future for lighting?

Me either, it was over one hundred years ago.

A traditional incandescent light bulb, originating from the 1860’s, still produces light in the same way today: A coil of wire inside a vacuum-tight glass enclosure, agitates electrons through that coil by applying the proper voltage, and it gets white hot — so hot that it produces light.  The more resistance, the brighter the light.

Thomas Edison is credited with making the light bulb practical.  Moving from gas lights to electric lights required much more than just a reliable lightbulb, it required: ELECTRICITY.

Edison and his team grappled with the tough job of designing and producing the necessary components of a viable electrical system.  They had to invent, to create all the sockets, fuses, switches, power meters, and generators that would be needed to get these new lightbulbs in places they were needed. In 1882 Edison helped form the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, which brought electric light to parts of Manhattan.

What Edison created, was a NETWORK.

Edison promoted electric light as being clean, healthy, and efficient — unlike it’s predecessor…foul-smelling, dangerous gas.  Cables insulated with beeswax and paraffin were run under the streets…and before long problems began to surface: horses were shocked while trotting down wet streets, some workmen were electrocuted. Across the country, the Edison system was meeting with widespread resistance.

It took over 40 years before before electricity began to finally surpass gas as the lighting network of choice in the United States. And even today, all the bulbs may have changed but the infrastructure, the network, is essentially the same.

Most of my audience knows this…but It was actually NOT Edison’s network that brought electricity to the masses…it was another genius that made that possible.

TechWiseTV Episode 181: Shining a Light on the Digital Ceiling.


  • What you will learn:
    • How lighting has become so much more than just illumination.
    • What we can do with lights now powered and controlled by the network.
    • Why lighting is only the beginning of something much bigger.
  • Outline:
    • Interview with John Baekelmans, Cisco CTO, Global Lead
    • Lighting, Sensors and HVAC Controls demonstration with Luis Suau, Technical Lead
    • History and backstory of the LED with leaders from Cree.

I do love the kind of rich historical background this story lends us. It puts a modern twist on Thomas Edison’s AC/DC wars.

As I opened with, Edison had to design a network to get electricity to his longer lasting lightbulbs.  He was very focused on that network being Direct Current.  But the achilles heel for DC was that it could only supply electricity for very short distances.

Industrialist George Westinghouse had invested and developed a system that used the competing, high-voltage ALTERNATING CURRENT.   He and Nikola Tesla, (who was, funny enough, a former employee of Edison’s), invented the AC motors and generators that directly challenged Edison’s domination of the electrical industry.

The tipping point was the Niagara Falls contract for building the first major hydro-electric power plant.  That contract was awarded to Westinghouse/Tesla and it became the deciding factor for Tesla’s Alternating Current over Edison’s Direct Current.  AC spread across the country and it is of course, what we are using today in our homes, our offices. This high voltage stuff handles distance pretty well.

But now, here we are in the digital age where every electronic component uses DC, despite the fact, we have an AC infrastructure.  Low voltage Direct Current now plays a very important role in the Digital Ceiling.  So maybe Edison didn’t really lose that battle after all.

The economics of LED’s are getting us started on this digitization journey…but it’s the network connectivity that really sets up for the future.

That future is here with The Digital Ceiling.

Thanks for watching.  Let me know what you think.







Robb Boyd

Producer, Writer, Host