But IdeaPaint grew up, he said, and about three years ago he was eager to do something new.
"I took a couple of months and just tried to kind of open my blinders and say, 'Hey what's going on in the world,' " he said. Around that time, a friend mentioned the incandescent phaseout, of which he had been unaware. Unhappy as a consumer with compact fluorescents and LEDs, he said, he decided to pursue making an alternative. "I thought, 'I don't really want those and there have got to be other people who don't want those either,' " he said.
Looking for the solution, he began attending conferences and meetings and enlisted the advice of Victor Roberts, a former General Electric engineer who eventually joined the venture. On a flight to Hong Kong, the two talked about induction, a technology that has many applications, including electric motors in home appliances and construction cranes because it is long-lasting. But it had not yet been widely adapted for home use in lighting because it was difficult and expensive to fit the electronics needed for bright, omnidirectional light inside a regular bulb.
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With the advent of smaller transistors and other advances, though, the company, which has hired engineers from established light makers like Osram Sylvania and Philips, shrank the apparatus to a three-inch antenna wrapped in copper wire. That creates a magnetic field inside the bulb that prods mercury to produce ultraviolet light, which in turn creates visible light when it interacts with a special phosphor coating the glass.
The result, to be manufactured in India, has almost all of its regulatory approvals. It can be disposed of in landfills despite its mercury content because the amount of metal is minuscule and in solid, not liquid, form. It also has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission because the antenna is technically a radio receiver, albeit a weak one. Mr. Goscha plans to sell the bulb for $8, making it competitive with some of the cheapest LEDs on the market.
But although it has shown enough promise to have attracted about $19 million from investors, including some of Mr. Goscha's Babson professors and interest from big-box retailers, its path is not yet cleared.
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Take, for instance, the Vu1, a bulb that was supposed to come to market more than three years ago. It was available for a time on the Lowe's website but had production problems and was withdrawn. With new manufacturing operations in China rather than the Czech Republic, said William B. Smith, the company's chief executive, it is only now ready to begin shipping to stores.
"This is all self-inflicted self-hatred," Mr. Smith said jokingly about the company's missteps, which included losing Wall Street backing after missing too many deadlines. "Whenever you move a technology from one country to another, it never goes as planned." Mr. Smith said he was largely financing the company himself while it struggled to get on better footing.
The Vu1, which will be available first for use in recessed fixtures, uses a technology like that of cathode ray tubes in televisions, a "state-of-the-art 1940s technology," Mr. Smith said, in which electrons hit a cocktail of phosphors on the glass, which then glows.
But the light's long journey to stores shows how difficult it can be to make a new light bulb and how elusive the promise of new technologies can be.
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Researchers, seeing a market that is wide open, are still working on even more technologies, including plasma and so-called organic LEDs, which spread light over a flexible surface.
"Twenty years from now, we'll walk into a room and OLED is going to be covering your entire ceiling and it's going to dim automatically and it's going to be able to figure out your mood and it's great," Mr. Smith said. "Thanks, Captain Kirk. But we're not there."
—By Diane Cardwell of The New York Times