Darran Milne is a Co-founder and CEO at VividQ based in Cambridge. His extensive experience in commercialising software products has been key to VividQ’s rapid growth. A Mathematician and Theoretical Physicist by training, Darran pivoted from academia to become a leading analyst at a large financial software company. There he led new development initiatives and managed client implementation projects.
As one of the Co-founders of VividQ and its former CTO, he directed the original research and development efforts and initiated partner collaborations. As CEO, he heads the company’s technical and commercial strategies, establishing VividQ as the underlying software provider for holographic display.
Darran holds a PhD in Quantum Information Theory and Quantum Optics from the University of St Andrews and the Max Planck Institute for Light.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Holographic display has been the dream for the 3D display community for over 20 years but it has always been seen as a “10 years away” technology. With our team of Holographic engineers, working with computer scientists and mathematicians, VividQ made a scientific breakthrough that finally enables holography to be a viable commercial technology. It was immediately clear that our technology has immediate applications in augmented/virtual reality and in-car displays but with the potential to revolutionise not only the entire display industry but the very means by which we interact with our digital data, providing the visualization needed for the next generation of spatial computing.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
Holography is the ultimate display technology, but it’s commercial applications were limited due to the immense computation involved. Having solved this major technical hurdle we can now bring holographic display to the consumer market, allowing everyone to experience the most impressive and intuitive 3D display possible. Holographic display will be everywhere, it will replace all the flat screens you currently use, from your mobile phone to your TV, you could even take a holiday in a totally unique holographic reality.
3. What is unique about your business?
Our uniqueness comes from the fact that we are highly focused on solving the computational (and therefore power requirement) issues for holographic display in AR systems through clever algorithms and the VividQ software framework. We are not a typical AR company that is building hardware, we are providing software solutions that may be implemented into future products that will use holographic display.
Our technology is agnostic to the final form factor of the AR device and the applications go well beyond head-mounted displays. Holographic display gives us a roadmap to AR without headsets, where the environment around you is able to create 3D projections without the need for the user to wear a device.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
In the last 12 months, we have released our latest software, containing some truly staggering advances in computational holography. Based on this we have secured partnerships with major display manufacturers and compute chip makers. We have also begun several large projects with manufacturers in the automotive industry, which will lead to some very exciting products in the near future.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
Our company will be powering multiple holographic display in your car, home and work, targeting around 40 million devices in 5 years. In 10 years we will turn cities into display systems so you can see a restaurant review from a friend pop up as you walk down the street or specialist doctors leading surgeries from a different country. This is how we can improve the way we interact and use the information around us.
6. What are you like as an employer?
VividQ is a diverse team and we invest heavily in groundbreaking research and development. We believe that the best people make the best product and are all about collaboration and testing. We want our team members to feel that they can always experiment, bring new ideas and be relied upon to deliver truly great work.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
On a technical and user level, there are several obvious challenges such as the bulky headwear that you can’t use all day, unrealistic integration of virtual objects into the world and the Vergence-Accommodation Conflict (VAC) causing eye fatigue or nausea. Information should be an interactive part of our daily lives whether this is car windscreens displaying real-time directions or conference calls that are indistinguishable from a real face to face meeting.
On a more commercial level, the main issue facing AR is the way it is presented to the general public. Look on the Google play store for example, and you’ll see an “AR Apps” section. But who knows what that’s for? For instance, you would never see an “AI Apps” section, as that gives the users no clue as to how they would apply the technology in their everyday lives. I actually think the applications for AR are already very apparent, and the notion of “AR hasn’t found it’s killer app” is somewhat misleading. However, AR is still stuck in a rather immature phase where we are still trying to sell the core technology rather than the benefits to real users with real problems. This will happen in time of course, but it is on everyone on the AR community to pivot our thinking away from believing that higher Field of view (FOV) and better tracking will solve all of AR’s issues (though it would certainly help) and tackle the problem of where and how AR integrates naturally with our everyday lives.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
Doubt is not a bad thing and you should constantly doubt everything to keep yourself honest. It is a useful tool that forces you to reconsider your positions and evaluate whether your direction still makes sense. Doubt is only a problem if it turns to paralysis and indecision, but thankfully we have a great and supportive team that never lets that happen.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
If you want to get into VR/AR join communities that run events such as hackathons and meetups then find a company that you believe will have real impact. The way we interact with information is changing but there is a lot of hard work, iterations and constantly learning so you need to believe in the end product
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
I often get carried away by the science and technology aspect of the business, something that I feel very passionately about. However, these days I should really focus more on strategy, governance and budgets. Science is a hard habit to kick.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
For many people, creativity is associated mainly with art or literature. I would argue that the feeling of epiphany, that moment of pure creativity where everything falls into place in your mind is just as present in mathematics and the sciences. The creative process, whether it be the production of an epic symphony or an elegant mathematical proof, is essentially the same. Either way, after a significant amount of work and thought, an idea crystallizes in your mind such that afterwards, you can’t even see how it could not be obvious. This defines creativity for me, that moment of discovery when you have generated a completely original idea and you know beyond doubt that it’s right.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
“Quantum Computing since Democritus” by Scott Aaronson. The best coffee table quantum theory read there is. This is how science writing should be done – taking some of the hardest concepts in modern physics and presenting them in an easily digestible but non-patronizing manner.
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
I used to compete in fencing regularly, but these days I only get to train maybe a couple of times a month. Other than that, I’m the vocalist and lead guitarist in a local Cambridge based band – mainly pub friendly rock covers.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry?
I don’t spend a lot of time looking around for inspiration among the industry at large. I can’t help but imagine that behind the media facades of the giants in tech, there is a person just doing the best they know how in a given situation. Sometimes that goes well and sometimes, more often than not, I’m sure, it doesn’t. I’d rather take inspiration from the team around me, the people I work with everyday that bring enthusiasm, intelligence and humour to our company. With a team like that, you always feel ready to take on whatever is thrown at you.