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Dave Higgins Announced as the 2017-2018 "Wally" Lifetime Achievement Winner

Dave Higgins

The board of directors of the Wally Russell Foundation announces the winner of the 2017-2018 Lifetime Achievement Award is distinguished innovator, entrepreneur, and industry pioneer, David G. Higgins.

The award will be presented at the annual USITT Conference and Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 16th at a breakfast celebration. (Time and location TBD).

Dave Higgins has been a valued member of our industry going on 44 years and made his reputation as the driving force of concepts such as interoperability between different manufacturer's proprietary products, open lighting controls protocols standard, robust mechanical/electrical equipment designs and ease of use.

Higgins moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1974 and found work as a panel wiring technician at the Electro Controls factory. Within six years, he had moved up from factory floor to first systems design, next heading up service and installation, and then sales for Canada.

In 1981, Higgins was recruited by Dilor Industries to lead their sales effort and he moved to Squamish, British Columbia. Dave held that position for two years before returning to Calgary where he began working for Interalia, a leading data communications company. Here Higgins expanded his knowledge of electronics and microprocessors, but never left the theatrical industry as he maintained a field service and technical support business on the side. In this capacity, he designed and built several products, including:

* A moving sidewalk controller for a touring production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat;
* An AMX192 splitter network for the 1988 Winter Olympics
* An analog to AMX192 splitter network for touring control desks.

In early 1987, Higgins left Interalia when Strand Lighting contracted him to be the factory representative for Southern Alberta. As he began to sell projects, Higgins saw the continuing and growing need for lighting control protocol converters and developed a product that enabled customers to break down the barriers imposed by proprietary control protocols. Why shouldn't a Strand console control a Kliegl dimmer rack or Colortran control Electro Controls and so on? Gray Interfaces was formed to commercialize this enabling technology. Early products were:

* An AMX192/DMX512 to analog interface (1990);
* The "Protocol Converter" an AMX192 to DMX512 interface (1991).

The market for interfaces began to explode and Higgins was guided by a philosophy of a manufacturer should first be willing to listen and then willing to produce. The 1990s was a decade of transition for the lighting controls industry and under Higgins' leadership, Gray Interfaces introduced:

* OEM DMX512 controllers for Douglas and GE relay panels (1992 to 1993)
* First generation DMX512 opto-splitters (1993)
* OEM DMX512 controllers for Lutron "3-wire" dimmable fluorescent ballasts (1994)
* The "Ultimate" Protocol Converter (1998)

It soon became apparent that DMX512 could be -- and would be -- used for far more than controlling dimmer intensities and relay on/off states. DMX512 routing and patching requirements could no longer be adequately supported with patch panels. This lead Higgins to introduce DMX Pathfinder in 1995, an electronic patch matrix that was programmed by a PC. Early adopters were CBC, Cirque du Soleil, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. 1998 saw the introduction of follow on products, Pathfinder LR and MR. Many Pathfinder systems are still in operation today.

In 1999, Higgins saw that hardware-based distribution of DMX512 would soon be rendered obsolete by Ethernet technology and the Pathport product line was developed and launched.

Very few tools for coding Ethernet stacks, if any, were available to small developers. Those that were available were supplied with proprietary chip sets and were prohibitively expensive. For Higgins, it was time to decide whether or not to "bet the farm" on a product. Higgins decided that the risk was worth it and so, after developing Ethernet stack from the ground up -- line by line -- the Pathport DMX-over-Ethernet product line was launched. Pathport won the ESTA Software Product of the Year award at LDI in 2000. It is worth noting that Pathport "gateways" were the first ever non-telephonic product to utilize 802.3af Power-over-Ethernet, (POE).

Beginning in 2004, Higgins focused Pathway Connectivity on developing additional Pathport devices as well as the eDIN modular interface product line. eDIN changed everything in the way DMX512 interface products were utilized in the market. The use of dip switches for the addressing and mode-of-operation selection was replaced with on-board user interfaces and compatibility with E1.20 RDM.

Higgins sold the Pathway Connectivity business to Acuity Brands in 2011, but not before introducing the VIA line of Gigabit Ethernet switches. At last, the industry now had a complete systems backbone designed, manufactured, distributed, and supported by a single manufacturer and Higgins' original vision had been realized.

Now "retired" Higgins lives in Calgary with Mary Lou, his wife and partner of 32 years. Their children are Andrew, born 1990 and Allison born in 1993. In 2014 their first grandchild Benjamin was born. He loves his "Papa" and they spend a lot of time together. Family, hiking, skiing, and motorcycling are Higgins' passions.

Higgins continues to be an active volunteer for many civic and church-related organizations.

The Wally Russell Foundation was created in 1992 to celebrate the vision and life of Wally Russell, a true mentor to the industry. For 26 years, the foundation has been supporting lighting interns for the Canadian Opera Company and the Los Angeles Opera in his memory.

For further information regarding the activities of the Wally Russell Foundation including:
The Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award
The Wally Russell Lighting Intern Program at the Los Angeles Opera
The Wally Russell Lighting Intern Program at the Canadian Opera Company
The Wally Russell Foundation/USITT Annual Mentoring Award,
Or, to contribute to the Wally Foundation, please contact:
Tom Folsom, board member, The Wally Russell Foundation, 16458 Bolsa Chica Street, Suite 221, Huntington Beach, California 92649 USA, call 714-699-3573, email wallyfoundation@gmail.com, or go to the URL below.


(28 August 2017)

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