E-Tech in Focus: VividQ

September 2019
Read time: 7 minutes


Combining his background in mathematics and experience in the financial sector, Darran Milne wanted to bring academic findings into practical application. He co-founded VividQ, collaborating with holographic researchers to create a cutting-edge software framework for holographic displays.

With VividQ now at the forefront of the display industry, we sat down with Darran to understand more about how VividQ came to be, and what he has learnt along the way…

How did your career path lead you to founding VividQ?

I studied Theoretical and Mathematical Physics at the University of St.Andrews, which led on to a PhD examining quantum information theory and quantum computation. I then moved away from academia but took these mathematical skills to build models and tools for financial services.

I had this business interest, then for a year and a half I was speaking to University of Cambridge researchers, who were focused on the concept of holographic display. During a collaboration we developed algorithms that would speed up the generation of holographic images, because, traditionally, it would take hours to generate even a single holographic image.

"These new algorithms were immensely better than anything we’d seen on the market before."

We started a business based on the strength of the algorithms alone. By solving this huge computational problem, we had solved the biggest problems in the market for holographic display: how to get into normal everyday consumer applications.

After the initial prototype in the summer of 2016, I sought out investors and managed to secure some first stage investment, which allowed us to set up the company properly in February 2017. From then onwards, our goal has been about developing the product, getting the first iteration of the software out, finding our first customers, and finding partners that are invested in the same mission as we are. That's where we are today.

How would you describe VividQ’s offering? What is its USP?

VividQ at its core is an algorithm company that delivers full service holography tech. If you want to create the ideal 3D display, you want to mimic the same way that nature presents visual information to your eye, i.e. by being able to calculate the trajectories of light reflecting off objects. That’s possible in theory, but to do it in practice is horrendously complicated. It used to take multiple hours to compute even a single 3D image.

Our USP is the ability to solve both of this in real time. No longer do you need mass computing power, large devices or 3D displays that make your eyes feel uncomfortable from the shortcut ways this image was captured. Instead we can literally use a desktop or a laptop that you can buy in a store, and you can compute real time, 3D holograms for a range of applications.

Our software platform allows us to reshape the future of the display industry, because now we will no longer be constrained to flat panel, 2D displays.

Did the software, rather than hardware, approach make it easier for you to launch the business?

Indeed. We really spotted a niche there. Whilst the hardware problems associated with holography are still something that require work, they're avenues that some of the larger players in the world have been investigating for some time. We saw no reason to try and step on their toes and reinvent what they're doing by looking at software as a scalable and competitive solution.

How has the company developed over time?

Quite a lot has changed since we started in February 2017. In the beginning, we had a team of around six people, with a strong academic expertise in Holographic Engineering and Maths. Early on we set up a commercial team as we developed partnerships and clients who were already keen to learn about the tech.

In the last year we've had a huge amount of success with the release of our first product, and our established partnerships with major chip companies, optical design partners, as well as display partners. We now have a robust ecosystem of companies around us, all on the same mission: to deliver holographic display. They’re all using our software as the focal point, as it’s necessary to make it happen. 

What were the challenges for you during this period of expansion and growth?

Finding the right partners to create that ecosystem. Holography is deep tech; it's quite complicated relative to the standard optic design that one might encounter. For this we needed partners with the same vision to supply the right kind of technology for the consumer market. It means our engagement with our partners and clients has been so rewarding to the continued development of our business and iterations of the product.

How will you guard against disruption in future?

On this, I am very confident! In theory and practice, holography is the best possible display you can have. You’re literally mimicking the way that nature presents visual information to your eye. There is no theoretical idea that could be better.

As our work is leading the field, there are others starting to work on similar things. However, we have the incredible advantage of being the first movers here. There is literally no another company in the world right now that has a ready-to-go platform for creating a holographic display, and certainly no one has the speed of algorithm that we have.

Over the next year, we will be significantly increasing our research, in order to maintain that competitive advantage and stay ahead of the game. We also have the advantage of our partners, and that they are all developing based on our software meaning our growth to become the de facto standard in the market is clear.

About VividQ

Industry: Software - holographic 3D display
HQ: Cambridge/London
Ownership: Privately Held
Company size: 11-50 employees
Sub-sector: Software, Hardware & Developers
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You've just closed an investment round; how will that change the company in future?

We are investing some of that funding in new prototypes. You may have seen some of our videos on YouTube, showing basic holographic demonstrations, augmented reality style glasses and free-floating holograms in front of a display. However, we want to get more direct access to our customers, so we're building new prototypes to improve the AR glasses, improved heads up displays and more. This is so we can show the applications larger scale and quality holograms.

Looking into next year, we have a very ambitious scale-up plan. We plan on establishing a holographic research center in Cambridge with over a dozen researchers dedicated to doing solely holographic display research. We are looking to grow rapidly next year in order to really establish ourselves as the standard in the industry.

Do you have plans to expand internationally in future?

Next year, we have plans to establish offices in San Francisco and Shenzhen as some of our major clients are US-based or China-based. The UK is a handy middle point and we'll be keeping research in the UK for the foreseeable future, because we have this incredible connection with the University of Cambridge. We work closely with their department in order to advance our research. In terms of our commercial activities, however, those will be expanding around the world.

What lessons would you have liked to have known before you started out?

For myself, I would say it was broadening my skills from the specialism of academia. In a start-up, skills such as how to talk to investors, how to communicate complex ideas in a simple way that grabs attention without getting mired in the detail are truly important. Also, how different the markets are, E-Tech within Europe and the UK has proved very different to the US ecosystem. A key learning is in perseverance and focusing in on the right investors.



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