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From the Incandescent Lightbulb to the Alkaline Storage Battery, Edison’s Inventions Live On in Advanced Technologies Supported by Standards

2/22/2022

February 11, 2022, marked the 175th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s birth. Born in Milan, Ohio, in 1847, Edison grew up to be one of the most famous American inventors of all time. His contributions to society were profound, leaving a mark on fields ranging from electric power generation to mass communication to motion pictures. All told, Edison received 1,093 patents, developing many practical devices and inspiring a new wave of technological progress. Many of his most famous inventions were the precursors to advanced technologies being developed today.

One of Edison’s most impactful inventions was the practical electric incandescent lamp. While lightbulbs already existed, Edison developed one that was long-lasting enough to be practical for widespread use. Today, advanced lighting systems use Interet of Things (IoT)–enabled sensors, bulbs, or adapters that allow users to manage home or office lighting with their smartphones. IoT lighting may also be set to operate on a schedule, or be triggered by motion or sound. ANSI/IES LP-12-21, Lighting Practice: IoT Connected Lighting, is an American National Standard (ANS) developed by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) to serve as a design guide and to provide lighting professionals with the necessary information to consider and evaluate potential connected lighting and IoT solutions and applications. IES is a member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Edison is also credited with several inventions that significantly advanced mass communications. The automatic telegraph, invented by Edison in the 1870s, built upon Samuel Morse’s telegraph to make it significantly faster: capable of recording 1,000 words per minute, as opposed to 25 to 40 words per minute. His carbon telephone transmitter invention improved upon Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, using a battery to extend how far apart phones could be during a call. The technology in modern phones offers capabilities far beyond voice communication, and standards bolster a myriad of functionalities. ASTM E3046-15, Standard Guide for Core Competencies for Mobile Phone Forensics, supports the use of cell phone analysis to help solve crimes, offering guidance to first responders and laboratory personnel. This ANS was developed by ASTM International, an ANSI member and audited designator.

When Edison invented the alkaline storage battery, it was to solve the problems of electric cars (popular in the late 1800s) whose batteries were heavy and leaked acid. He developed a reliable alkaline battery that was lighter and more powerful in 1910. Soon after, though, Henry Ford released the Model T car that used an internal combustion engine, leaving electric cars to take a backseat. The alkaline storage battery was wildly successful anyway, with uses ranging from submarines to mining lamps. These days, electric cars are back in demand, and standards support their safe and effective development. SAE J 2954-2020, Wireless Power Transfer for Light-Duty Plug-in/Electric Vehicles and Alignment Methodology, establishes an industry-wide specification that defines acceptable criteria for interoperability, electromagnetic compatibility, EMF, minimum performance, safety, and testing for wireless power transfer (WPT) of light-duty plug-in electric vehicles. It was developed by SAE International, an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.

Remote-controlled lightbulbs, portable telephones that help solve crimes, and electric cars that can be recharged wirelessly – could Thomas Edison have imagined what the future held for the technologies he developed? Given his inventive genius, maybe so! Either way, Edison’s inventions were an integral step in the development of the technologies we rely on today. Learn more about Edison on the Library of Congress website.

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