3D Volumetric Display - Green Dragon

Behind the scenes with Voxon CTO and Co-Founder, Gavin Smith

Today we thought we’d ask Voxon co-founder and CTO Gavin Smith a few questions and get a little bit of insight in how Gavin ended up in the world of holographic (or technically volumetric) displays.

What on earth made you want to invent a volumetric display?

It really started when I was about 13. In my diary from 1985, I made a prediction that by the year 2000, I’d be married with 2 kids and own a Holographic TV and an electric Ferrari.  So, it’s just the electric Ferrari to get now… except that I’d probably now settle for something far more practical like an electric campervan. After moving to Australia from Scotland in 2006, I met met Will, via my wife Kate, who knew him since school. Will and I both had a love of tinkering and engineering and after many hours of hacking together random machines in the shed, we decided to up the ante and build something that didn’t already exist. We wanted to invent a holographic display, inspired by Dejarik, the holographic chess game seen in Star Wars.

Will Tamblyn and Gavin Smith 'Thursday Lab Sessions'
Will Tamblyn and Gavin Smith ‘Thursday Lab Sessions’
Dejarik Star Wars game
Dejarik – the Star Wars inspiration for Voxon’s holographic display

How did you start the process of inventing? What were the steps involved?  

We broke it down into tiny manageable chunks.  We started with a laser pointer and a piece of cardboard. Waving the card in the dark with a  laser pointer shone on it made a line stretched out in the darkness. That line was a vector in space, a continuous line of “voxels”, to make the first single voxel, we attached a CD ( which we’d scraped off all the silver to make it clear ) to a dremel, and painted it black except for a narrow slit, through which the laser could pass. When spinning the disk, and shaking the card, the laser was “chopped” and the result was a single point of line in space which we adjusted by varying the speed of the dremel.  That was our first Voxel, or volumetric pixel.

Have you always been a tinkerer / inventor?

Yes, for as long as I can remember. My Dad has a garage which was always full of half-built things. I was obsessed with how things worked. I took perfectly good things apart to see what was inside. Tape recorders, TVs, go kart engines, the more complex the better. Putting things back together was not as interesting to me and as a result, things in our house often stopped working for some mysterious reason.

You grew up in Scotland. How did you end up in Adelaide, Australia?

I grew up in Elgin, in the North East of Scotland. It’s a stunningly beautiful place and the kind of place I’d happily retire to. Great beaches, forests, castles, and mountains.  Whilst working as a Mainframe Configuration Manager for the Royal Bank of Scotland, I met the lovely Kate, who was traveling in Europe with a friend. She ended up staying in Scotland for 7 years before I decided to give life down under a go. 19 Years later and we are still here and are married with 2 lovely girls.  

What’s the best thing that has happened to you along the Voxon journey?

There’s no one thing, it’s a collection of small things. Seeing an idea develop, like a puzzle being solved piece at a time is very rewarding. Growing from 2 people to a team of 14, and being surrounded by people who are all focused on solving problems, means that every day is a mini adventure.  Working with some of the biggest companies in the world, traveling abroad, and staying ahead of the competition never gets dull. As CTO, my primary focus is managing a small, but incredibly talented technical team, to ensure we can push the limits of the technology and meet the business objectives.  

When founding a start-up there’s often plenty of hard times. What’s been one of the biggest challenges?

There are too many challenges to list.  I once watched an episode of Silicon Valley but found it too closely mirrored our situation at the time, and found it too stressful to watch.  Probably the biggest challenge has been finding the right team. Without a good team dynamic, you will burn all your energy managing conflict and not make any progress. We have a great team, and are making great progress now, but it was not always like that. Startups find themselves surrounded by people wanting to help, offering advice, consulting, whether it’s for free, or for a percentage, the fact is that you very quickly run out of time to do what got you started in the first place.

You have known Voxon Co-founder and CEO Will Tamblyn for many years. How did that friendship come about and how do you stay sane working together so closely?

Will was school friends with my wife Kate. When I met him, we hit it off and started a “Thursday Lab Session” every week where we’d build stuff in Wills shed. It was basically an excuse to have a beer and take stuff apart.  In Adelaide, we have “hard rubbish days” when you can put out broken electrical goods for council collection. We’d go “treasure hunting” and drive around and pick up peoples junk to disassemble and re-purpose. We built CNC machines, vacuum forming machines, learned how to lathe and weld and generally taught ourselves how to problem solve. We don’t stay sane working closely together, where did you get that idea?

Gavin Smith, Star wars Day
‘Sane’ Gavin on May 4 (Star Wars Day) 2017 – click through to see video

What can you tell us that is happening at Voxon in the near future?

Like most startups, we are continuing to validate our technology, and preparing for our next investment round.  Investment gives us the resource to grow our team, which allows us to take our technology to the next stage of evolution. We have a technology roadmap and a long list of NDAs with companies who we are working with to validate new markets.  Right now, we have the most advanced holographic display in the world which we are selling worldwide and we are working very hard to maintain that position.

You mentioned that it is still early in the journey for Voxon. Where do you see Voxon’s technology being in a few years time or even 10 years time?

Volumetric capture technology, a term that was unheard of just a few years ago, is now everywhere, being driven by AR and VR funding. Those technologies are still battling with the requirement to wear something on your head.  It seems clear to me that a technology that can render volumetric data, whether it is sport, dance, art, medical data, meteorology or any other type of 3D data, in a space that you can look at from any direction, should become widely adopted. I don’t see the technology replacing traditional screens, but rather augmenting it in a way that brings people back together in a social setting. Our technology has no barrier to experience, you can walk up to it and use it, or more importantly share using it.  We have lots of ideas for the future that we have not shown or talked up in public. This is just the tip of the holographic iceberg.

Favourite Game of Thrones character and why?

Bronn, because nothing seems to phase him, and he maintains a sense of humor when the world is collapsing around him. Everybody needs a Bronn on their team.

Outside of the Voxon office, what do you love doing?

I love the great outdoors. I love mountain biking, cross-country running, gardening, watching movies, playing piano, electric guitar and travel. Having adventures with my family and watching our two girls grow up. I never get bored, and often return to old hobbies which I forget about, such as rock climbing, which I have a love-hate relationship with, after an incident involving an angry seabird in Scotland.    

Gavin Smith, CTO of Voxon Photonics, looking at the Voxon VX1 holographic display
Gavin Smith, CTO of Voxon Photonics, looking at the Voxon VX1 holographic display

Thanks for taking the time to give us a little insight or behinds the scenes look into your life Gavin. We may need to have a part 2 to find out a little more about the angry seabird! Hopefully you enjoyed getting a glimpse into the mind of a mad inventor 😉

You can read a little more ‘behind the scenes at Voxon’ stories here:

Behind the scenes with Voxon Design Engineer, Michael Buckett

Behind the scenes with Voxon Chief Computer Scientist, Ken Silverman

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