TikTok Lights: Meet the Inventor of the Gen-Z Trend

Worldwide LED Industry Standards Have California Roots at LEDtronics

By David Dickstein, special to Mr. Gadget®

 

One of today’s hottest trends among Gen-Zers is to bring their rooms to life in fun and colorful ways with LED strip lights. The creative options, affordability and user-friendliness inherent to this alternative to standard lighting have youth around the world adding pizazz to their personal space more than ever.

Even before COVID-19-related sheltering caused a Zoom boom that made mood setting and personality expression on virtual gatherings a thing, rooms belonging to tweens, teens and collegians were being decorated with LED strip lights to add a new level of cool. The product line is enjoying a new level of hot not only because people are spending more money on where they’re spending more time, but due to the growing popularity of filming short-form videos for TikTok. So many content creators have become “TikTok famous” using vibey, color-changing LED strip lights that some corners of the marketplace call these glowing gadgets “TikTok lights.”

Today’s trendy LED strip lights, or “TikTok Lights” as Gen-Zers also call them, were invented for Eastman Kodak in 1988 by Pervaiz Lodhie in Torrance, Calif. The original “pathlights” from LEDtronics have come a long way from being offered in just red and green. Photo by Raffi Shubukian

 

Pervaiz Lodhie is too modest to tell the world, “You’re welcome,” but LED strip lights were his bright idea. “Pathlights,” as he called them, were developed by LEDtronics, the Torrance, Calif.-based lighting manufacturing company Lodhie and his wife, Almas, founded in 1983. The product’s first customer was Eastman Kodak Company, which needed linear lighting with a special color and intensity to improve work conditions and productivity at Kodak’s main plant in Rochester, NY and other factories of the photography giant.

The newfangled lighting solution was such a hit, Lodhie and company turned to trains as the next vertical for the product.

“I soon developed flexible pathlights for the railroad industry,” Lodhie said. “Passengers and crew are able to find exits much faster thanks to this innovation.”

Railcars and cameras led to targeting and customizing for a number of verticals. As a LEDtronics press release touted in September 1997, the company’s PLT Pathlight Series of flexible, solid-state LEDs “provide directional lighting for steps, stairways, stairwells and walkways,” and “used to identify and mark manufacturing, storage and equipment areas. They can be cut to any length, and supplied with a water-clear cover and snap-in base with a UL rating of 94V-0.”

Lodhie’s invention was first in only red and green, but by market launch came in a variety of vivid colors, from blue and orange to two shades of red, yellow and green. Never did Lodhie envision his pathlights ever becoming a mood-altering decorative item that can turn an ordinary room into a place that’s fun, flashy and futuristic with a flip of a switch.

“I invented pathlights long before the advent of smart phones, video apps and super-cool parents who allowed their kids to decorate their rooms with electronics,” he said. “There’s now countless uses for what’s now better known as strip lights or, as the kids call them, TikTok lights.”

 

Genesis of Other Major Product Categories

 

Although Lodhie didn’t patent his invention at the onset – keep reading to understand why – he did file one 15 years later for an “LED light bulb for a light strip.” U.S. Design Patent No. 474849S was granted in 2003, the 20th anniversary year of LEDtronics.

Lodhie, who holds over 50 lighting-related patents, is a 76-year-old entrepreneurial Pakistani immigrant who applied his mechanical engineering degree from Cal State Los Angeles to found what today is one of the last remaining original LED lighting manufacturers in the nation.

While the majority of LED products bought by Americans are now made in Asia, the pride of technological ownership remains in the USA. In fact, some of today’s most ubiquitous LED products were invented by Lodhie and born at LEDtronics. In addition to the wildly popular LED strip lights, the company planted the flag in 1997 with the beacon bulb, a precursor to the modern-day post top LED lamp that beautifully illuminates walkways in many cities worldwide. LEDtronics is also home of the LED tube light, which in 15 years has evolved from a low-voltage drop-in replacement to ballasted fluorescent tube lights to a “dual-mode” ballast ready/ballast bypass LED product that hit the market in January.

“Not only did we invent the first generation of LED tube lights that went commercial in 2006, but we also just came out with a new series that has higher efficacy or lumens per watt with lower power and at less cost,” Lodhie said, adding that the next-gen LED T8 Tube Light directly replaces T8 fluorescent or LED tube lights in fixtures with or without a ballast.

With so many contributions to his name, you’d think Lodhie would be cited in books on the history of lighting or at least once on the Wikipedia page for “Light-emitting diode.” Nope. Call the man an entrepreneur, an innovator and an industry leader, but a self-marketer he isn’t. For someone whose breakthroughs have lit up Buckingham Palace, Los Angeles City Hall, The Smithsonian and even the set of “Wicked,” Lodhie doesn’t seem interested in shining a light on himself.

“First, I don’t even know how to make my name appear in Wikipedia,” Lodhie laughed. “Secondly, I am quite content and humbled when someone in the business acknowledges my role in creating the industry. That’s all the recognition I really need.”

So magnanimous is Lodhie that he doesn’t harbor resentment toward those who have copied his innovations without giving proper credit, let alone royalties.

“I consider myself as a problem-solving engineer, always innovating, fixing and improving broken things – always knowing that whatever I learn or do must be passed on to as many others as possible, even if they are competitors,” Lodhie said. “As a professional electromechanical engineer, my reward is always in OEM companies benefiting from my solutions. My knowledge has never been mine to keep.”

Lodhie mentioned one other perk of the job.

“I’m so proud to be on the front lines of a revolution responsible for more and more companies, cities and households phasing out traditional incandescent bulbs in exchange for energy-saving, eco-friendly, environmentally safe LEDs,” he said. “Knowing that my efforts positively affect almost every human being – every living species, perhaps – is my greatest self-satisfaction.”

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Thanks, David! My readers love LED technology almost as much as I do.