Scientific breakthrough as VividQ fashions digital 3D holograms
VividQ boasts hologram technology capable of manipulating light to produce novel 3D displays for a range of applications from automotive to gaming.
It is one of the many world-class entrants in this year’s Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards (the deadline for entries is now August 14).
From its genesis out of the Cambridge Photonics group in 2016, the company has blossomed through two funding rounds to a team of 28, of whom 22 are technology workers, including mathematicians, software engineers and computer scientists. VividQ is has rapidly evolved into a deep tech company with world-leading expertise in 3D holography.
“Of the six founders, four are technology-facing,” says co-founder and COO Aleksandra Pedraszewska, who has a business background via Cambridge Judge Business School, where she completed a Masters in technology policy.
The company was formed in 2017 via “a combination of discussions – my co-founder was due to give a presentation on this world-breaking technology and realised he could use some help on the business side”.
Aleksandra “went to the lab and saw the first holographic display demonstrated – it was quite fascinating”, she adds with a laugh.
VividQ’s holographic technology arrived two years later with the development of their world’s first software framework for holographic display purposes. It was a major step forward from the embossed holograms as used on credit cards and bank notes which first arrived in the 1970s. These holograms took an analogue reading of a 3D object and embedded it permanently in the material. VividQ uses digital holography techniques where the 3D objects or scenes are created using mathematical reconstruction algorithms, and presented on a digital display.
“Holograms imitate how light behaves in the real world so the 3D projections that use them look very realistic,” says Aleksandra. “Those mathematical recreations of light patterns are extremely complicated. It takes hours to create even a single frame of a holographic image using traditional techniques. They were not good enough to use a holographic display for gaming or videos.
“At VividQ we learnt how to guide the light to create any 3D image or experience. For instance, when you pick up a pen and look at it, a combination of different wavefronts hits your eye and that’s how your brain knows that it is three-dimensional. In holography, we can recreate those wavefronts, and project a holographic pen that people believe is real.”
VividQ’s technical founders “stumbled on a true scientific breakthrough in holography, which is usually the domain of optical engineers”, says Aleksandra. “Since the team has backgrounds in many areas of science, they came up with an entirely new way of creating holographic projections.
“We’ve written our own algorithms from scratch, and do not use any artificial intelligence tricks. Machine learning cannot really help in holography because there is not much predictiction you can do about light behaviour – every frame of a holographic video is different. We use very efficient algorithms to make the calculations and display those digital experiences. These algorithms are our main IP.”
Increased computer power has a key role in this breakthrough.
“The holograms you find on old CDs were created using the same physical principles as in digital holography. However, for digital holograms the light pattern reconstruction is performed purely numerically, and computers were not very efficient in doing so. Even on a super-computer, it took hours to generate a single frame of a holographic video.
“Thanks to a new generation of processors and VividQ’s algorithms, holographic displays can now run in real-time on standard computing power, unlocking the potential for a long-awaited revolution in digital display for consumer applications.”
No surprise, then, that investors have been eager to get involved – even before launch.
“We got the first funding at the end of 2016,” notes Aleksandra, “from an individual investor who worked with our technical co-founders before.
“In 2017 we closed our first proper round of just over £2m, with angel investors, then in 2019 we received venture capital funding of £3.4m from institutional investors from the UK, Germany and Japan, with participation from our angels.”
The most exciting part, of course, is when – and how – this new technology becomes available to consumers: first up is automotive.
“Head-up displays are becoming an expected add-on for the next generation cars. For instance, BMW’s and Jaguar’s latest cars offer head-up displays where some information is displayed on your windscreen,” says Aleksandra.
Jaguar’s option is part of its in-house ‘Smart Cabin’ initiative, while BMW’s involves a small projector and a system of mirrors controlled by its iDrive Controller.
“These HUDs do not involve VividQ technology yet but could be noticeably enhanced with holographic display. Holography allows for the information to be displayed contextually, on the road, rather than just on the windscreen, so you could better estimate your distance from the other car or see overlays of the road when weather conditions are poor.”
VividQ licenses its software development kits and IP to technology companies that integrate holographic displays into consumer electronics products such as head-up displays, but also augmented reality (AR) smartglasses and larger area displays like laptops.
The team has a customer base among well-known American and Japanese ODMs and OEMs: VividQ is establishing its software for holography as a new standard of display technology.
The Sheraton House-based team has also built an international ecosystem of partner organisations to jointly develop holographic solutions, including manufacturers of dedicated computer platforms and chipsets, micro-displays, and optical systems.
Publicly announced strategic partners include Nvidia, Himax and Compound Photonics. By optimising its products alongside the embedded sector, VividQ’s software framework becomes the key enabling component bringing wide-scale holographic display to the market.
“For automotive, the first car using holographic head-up displays can be expected in the next 18 months as a result of our project with an Asian manufacturer,” adds Aleksandra.
For automotive HUDs, VividQ’s software brings contextually relevant 3D information to the driver’s attention. So how might digitally-created holograms work in gaming – or films?
“The ambition is to develop a real Holodeck: a large-scale 3D display capable of projecting anything you want. For instance, in your living room you currently have a flat-screen TV but our technology can generate movie characters or gaming objects that would move around the room.
“Manufacturers of phones and AR smartglasses are also exploring ways to introduce something entirely new for their customers.”