Vancouver based MTT Innovations teams up with Barco
Firms to commercialize a high-efficiency, ultra-bright projector
In 2012, a group of three engineers wanted to combine their love of cinema with their desire to work in a dynamic, fast paced environment. All three had worked for large corporations and their previous employer, Dolby Vancouver, had recently relocated to San Francisco. So instead of taking the relocation offer, they decided to start MTT Innovations and try to solve one of the biggest bottlenecks in the movie theatre experience: image projection. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Gerwin Damberg, CTO of MTT Innovations, about how MTT began, the future of cinema and applications of their technology that would interest EP&T’s readership.
Q: What was the impetus for starting MTT Innovation?
“First, we like movies, and we had worked in this high level space in cinema. Second, we knew one bottleneck has been the projector. The current movie production pipeline has great cameras, very good video codec and great image processing tools,” explains Damberg. On the receiving end, humans are able to perceive a huge variety of colours and shapes, and the biggest obstacle to garnering the picture quality that uses this massive range has been the projector in a cinema. The new partnership with Barco will speed up the commercialization of their MTT LEAP Light-Efficient Adaptive Projector as they grow from eight to 20 engineers over the next year.
Q: Sounds simple enough, so what were the obstacles to innovation?
“One reason this is hard to do is there needs to be a lot of light for a big screen, which entails significant engineering and cost challenges as well as thermal management,” says Damberg. To get more and better light onto the screen, MTT Innovations had to think outside the box. Conventional projectors have three basic components: a lamp, a prism to separate white light into RGB and a filter which creates shades and colors by blocking and wasting light. “So instead of using a filter, we have found a much more efficient way of taking light and moving it around so we do not have to use a filter. The light is 10 or 20 times brighter, the dark areas are darker, so the image looks much more life-like,” says Damberg. Of course, implementation was tricky. “We needed complex algorithms, and we have tirelessly prototyped it over three years.” With pre-commercial tests looking great, MTT Innovations will boast massive cost savings as conventional projectors waste as much as 80% of the source light that MTT Innovation’s patent-pending technology recycles.
Q: What about other applications, how would EP&T’s readership benefit from MTT’s technology?
“There are many other applications, for instance, outdoor advertising such as LED walls use a lot of energy and they are hard to maintain. Car headlamps in the future may use projectors that could project light, symbols and signals,” says Damberg.
Q: It is great to see a Vancouver company grow at this pace. Can you share a tip for future entrepreneurs who aim to follow in your team’s footsteps?
“What has helped us was to start out with a real industry problem to solve. This allowed us to focus on solving that problem without getting distracted by creating a ‘cool’ technology. I see a lot of cool technologies that then look for markets, which I think is much more difficult. The other benefit to focusing on an industry problem is that it allowed us to run lean in terms of marketing,” explains Damberg. On one hand, investors want leading edge, industry ready innovation, but on the other – in order to attract investment, entrepreneurs find themselves investing heavily in time, money and staff on websites, marketing materials and business development staff, all of which may not be the forte of research and development driven engineers. Damberg explains, “By focusing on an industry problem, we have earned future orders from industry as well as strategic partnerships with bigger players which allowed us to access funding more easily from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. From there, and with Barco at our side, look for us in a theatre near you in the not so distant future.
Barco posted sales of $1.029-billion Euro in 2015. To learn more about MTT Innovations, visit mtt-innovation.com