Tomas Sluka is the CEO and co-founder of Lausanne based high-tech startup CREAL. Winner of the XR Tech Tour Contest 2019, Tomas is an enthusiastic engineer, inventor and visionary with PhD in mechatronics and previous experience with high-profile projects at CERN and EPFL. He is also a highly cited author and speaker.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
When virtual reality promised an entirely new level of experience, I was absolutely excited about it, but what came instead was a disappointment.
Each time I tried a new VR and later AR headset I felt an unpleasant eye-strain and missed the expected immersion. I immediately knew that for me it is due to missing optical depth in the virtual images. Later I learned that ~15% of people feel the same immediately and everyone else in ~20 minutes. To my surprise, no one was bringing a solution that could create high-quality hologram-like images and that would be simple enough for productization in the foreseeable future, while there is no fundamental limit to do it today. The problem turned to a challenge and opportunity. It took me about two years to build a demo of high-fidelity light-field projector, attract a founding team and incorporate the company.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
We are convinced that smart eye-wear which fuses contextual virtual information into the real world around us will become the next big thing after the smartphones and that practically everyone will use it every day for everything from cooking to neurosurgery before the end of this decade. We bring one of the missing links to make it happen.
3. What is unique about your business?
We are selling something which no one had ever seen before – images that are digital but look like real. This however also means that we cannot show them remotely. They can be seen only on our display. That is quite unique in my opinion.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
We managed to build a dream-team of experts and so far over-delivered on our promises. Our hologram-like images were praised in media as something “unlike anything on the VR/AR market today” and “the closest thing to a real light-field”. That is quite satisfying.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
Realistically either dead or acquired. In visions, we will be the technology leader in the consumer electronics industry.
6. What are you like as an employer?
My role-model in this is George Westinghouse. There is an anecdote about him. Once he supposedly witnessed how a middle manager in his factory is shouting at a worker who struggled to make a part. Westinghouse – already a billionaire – took off his suit and personally trained the worker to make the part. Another quote I keep in mind is from Harry Potter: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” I try to approach everyone as a peer.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
I am afraid that successful consumer XR products will be all alike, while every failed product will be wrong in its own way. The problem is that no one knows which are the right ingredients and when they come together. The biggest challenge for everyone as well as for us is to keep on the right track, and always have backup plans to survive possible delays of the ecosystem.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
I try to make all decisions and actions according to the best of my knowledge and conscience. It may still be wrong and lead to failures, but, in some sense, you know there was no better way to do it. When it comes to doubts, I try to find something which can be blindly measured, listen to advice from experienced people or my gut feeling.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
Just start realizing your vision and don’t give up. To people with a technical background, I recommend getting business training, join forces with business people and quickly learn the business language.
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
I wish to learn how to not let “perfect” be the enemy of “good enough”.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
The out-of-the-box thinking. It seems to be more natural when you do something for which you were not formally trained.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
“The New Quantum Universe”. An inspiring history of technology innovations in the 20th century including the stories of people behind them. I learned that seemingly super difficult and complex technologies that changed the world started very simply.
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
There is very little of such time, but my work is my hobby. The little rest I spend with my family, reading, sleeping, trying to not completely forget playing piano and guitar, and forcing myself to go running.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry?
George Westinghouse in the past and Elon Musk today.