“The dot was mesmerising and represented a ‘voxel’ a single building block of any imaginable 3D image, the complexity of which was merely limited by the number of voxels that could be manipulated simultaneously.”
Like many hardware startups, the Voxon story started in a backyard shed. In 2009, founders Gavin Smith and Will Tamblyn, spent each Thursday evening tinkering, making, breaking and inventing. Using a ready supply of electronics and mechanical devices collected during “hard rubbish” scavenging missions under the cover of darkness, Gavin and Will, in their own way, helped recycle items that would have otherwise be destined for landfill.
Over the years that followed, all sorts of unusual and largely unnecessary inventions were born in “Nesta Labs” in Will’s backyard shed in Adelaide. These included magnetic bike shoes, entomological synthesizers, printer/scanner hybrid CNC machines, vacuum formers, inverted record players, and many more. One project, however, continued in the background each Thursday, and in time displaced all others. That project was centred around the ability to control the placement of a point of light.
Starting with a laser pointer and piece of card, Will and Gavin extruded a line in the air, a line that only existed due to the persistence of vision. By pulsing the laser, that line became a single dot, the position of which could be controlled. The dot was mesmerising and represented a “voxel”, a single building block of any imaginable 3D image, the complexity of which was merely limited by the number of voxels that could be manipulated simultaneously. In the following years, the quest for more voxels led Will and Gavin on a journey of discovery, vibrating phones on pistons, shining lasers through video projectors, bypassing colour wheels in optical engines and putting more voltage through household components that was recommended.
Few people have heard of “Dejarik”. Unless you are a hardcore Star Wars fan, you probably just know it as “Monster Chess” or “Holo Chess” from Star Wars. But that game played by Chewbacca and C3PO aboard the Millennium Falcon became the obsession of Will and Gavin. They soon decided to forgo all other “inventing adventures” in pursuit of the dream of making a real holographic display. “Nobody has done this before”, the pair concluded, “because if they had, we’d all have one… How could we not have one?”
“To take what had only been imagined, and bring it to life. We never had this as a slogan or mission statement, but with hindsight, this was what drove us both to experiment, free from rules, and sensibilities, and people who knew better, telling us not to waste our time.” – Gavin Smith
After three years of experimentation, Gavin and Will created a prototype display. A tiny rotating helix made from white plastic that was thermoformed in Will’s kitchen. It spun on a motor and displayed thousands of frames of light that were projected from a matchbox sized DLP projector. Controlled by an entirely custom-written Java based graphics engine designed to project over 1000 frames per second, the display could render a true 3D image of a tiny Elephant, a glowing green object that could be viewed from any direction.
In 2013 Gavin and Will joined forces with Voxon, a New York-based startup, and together they set out to develop a commercial volumetric display. The team soon realised that in order to build the ultimate volumetric graphics engine, it would need to do so from scratch. The engine needed to be supremely fast, and capable of real-time interactivity, with a frame rate at least 4 times faster than what they had achieved so far.
Ken Silverman, had made a name for himself writing the “Build Engine”, the graphics technology that powered Duke Nukem 3D, the popular first-person shooter video game developed by 3D Realms. Ken was widely regarded as one of the best programmers in the world, and in 2013, after seeing a demo of the team’s prototype volumetric display, joined Voxon as Co-founder and Chief Computer Scientist.
In 2015, Gavin and Will left their day jobs to work on the project full time, setting up a permanent office at the New Venture Institute at Tonsley Innovation District in Adelaide, South Australia. A year later, the pair successfully raised their first seed round of investment and grew the team to 12 people. Together, the team developed the companies first product, the VX1, the first fully integrated commercial volumetric display with fully-featured API, enabling anybody with basic tech skills to create rich and detailed volumetric images.
By 2019, Voxon has shipped numerous VX1 displays to customers throughout the world including Harvard, MIT, Toyota, Verizon, Ericsson, LVMH, Accenture, Deloitte, Nissan and many more. Voxon has further developed its core capabilities, including the development of multi-projector solutions, rotating helical displays, flicker-free high frequency displays. With a patent granted in the USA, Voxon is recognised as the world leader in the design and manufacture of Volumetric Displays and is now developing strategic relationships with tier one companies around the globe with the aim of developing a range of displays for different markets including Medical Imaging, Gaming, Aerospace, Education, Simulation, Advertising, Volumetric Sport, Video Communication and 3D design.