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The lights over your head are about to get smartBridgelux is building a new kind of lighting that turns your ceiling into a network of smart devices. CEO Bill Watkins has bet his first class seat on it.
-In this episode of CNET conversations, we meet a guy who hitchhikes from Texas to California to get a job a floppy disc company. Later, he rose to become the CEO of Seagate. Reinvention being the essence of Silicon Valley, his ouster from that job has put Bill Watkins back in start-up mode on a mission to light up your life with LEDs. -20% of the American grid of energy is for lighting alone. So, you look at that market. How do I-- How do I make people save money in energy? And how can I do that with intelligent lighting from control functions for lower energy light, etc.? You open up all these possibilities and that??s what Bridgelux is about. -First, it??s all about LED lighting, but made a different way. -What happens here? -This is a reactor. So, this is where you have-- it??s nuclear. -Nuclear? Yup. -This is where we grow our epitaxial films on our wafers. They are either silicon or sapphire. -How can you drive down the cost of LED ??coz right now LED fixtures-- -Yeah. -for both institutional and consumers-- -Yeah. -are high? -Today, we manufacture LEDs on sapphire-based substrate. -This is our 2-inch sapphire wafer. -So, sapphire wafer. These are basically sapphire discs, very thin. -Yup. -It??s very thin. -But this is pretty small. -But it??s small. It??s fairly expensive. -Then we thought, ??Well, what can we do different??? -Boom! -Now, this is classic semi-conductor business. -Yeah. -No. -This is-- This is pure-rated silicon. -These are rated wafers. -Yeah. -Your DRAM and we basically use gases and materials and we-- and we build a-- a series of layers. What we have solved is the ability to do that 8-inch and that-- those temperatures and those gases without any cracking or breaking [unk] -This is where you come in and you go to factories-- -Right. -that have moved on to a 12-inch. -That??s right. -Which is the new high heated, right? -Right. They used to make DRAM for our USB drives or whatever that is, right? -Or semiconductors. -Right? -And you say you guys weren??t doing much with those lines. -We want-- We??re able to-- -We can make lights on there. -Make lights on that side. -Making LED lights in a way that [unk] is making silicon chips doesn??t just drive down cost. It also paves the way to embedding intelligence and new functions into that module that lives in a light side. -We don??t look at that??s as a socket. We think of it as a node. -When you start putting a light in the chips and make them an intelligent light, now you have an ability to applications here. Why not turn your lights off from your iPhone? -It??s gonna be a light that eventually will react to your environment, your emotion. Eventually, we??re gonna see lights that can look at the room that will-- will measure what??s going on the room and just light to optimal reading conditions or optimal TV watching conditions. -Watkins departed Seagate after the dramatic falling out with their board. One that led to a new beginning that seems to suit him. After Seagate, I thought, ??You know what? I wanna go back to real work.?? I-- I??m tired of lawyers and banker. I wanna go back and this opportunity came up to look at this company and I came down here and looked at it. And as honkey as this may sound, I came here and I met these young engineers, you know. -You know, 28 years old, I probably don??t think they??re young. -But confident loaded. It??s been a long time since I??ve been around a bunch of people who would think they??re changing the world and so I said, ??You know what? I don??t need the Entourage or the Jetsons stuff like that. This is what I wanna do and that??s what I??m doing. Now, I wanna go back to Entourage and Jetsons. -[unk] -So, I will get this big as I can so I can give myself a jet. -Great motivation. -Patient. Yeah, that??s right. -As is the idea that Bridgelux engineers could turn the lightening business on its head. -The brand names that we??ve known for such a long time are gonna change. -And I think every light eventually in 10 or 15 years will be LED based. -The opportunities are phenomenal not only the technology, but in the product and in the whole business model. I mean, that??s what it makes such an exciting industry. It??s gonna change dramatically. -Now, you may have noticed that a thread of cost saving winds through all that Bridgelux is attempting and that approach is going to be essential as most of their customers large or small are used to thinking of lighting as just a cost to be managed rather than an opportunity to do more with all that infrastructure that lies over our heads.