December 17, 2010 / 2:03 PM / 7 years ago

Tech hopeful projects gadget success in 2 years

BANGALORE (Reuters) - Which Redmond, Washington-based technology company, its name starting with "Micro," is looking to make waves in the world of smartphones?

Located within miles of the Microsoft headquarters, a tiny company makes pico projectors that can beam video or images from a mobile device on to any surface irrespective of screen size.

Microvision Inc expects more consumer gadgets like smartphones and tablets to use its pico projectors by mid-2012, and hopes to turn in a profit within six months of the shift.

Currently the pico projectors are predominantly sold as standalone products. But the company aims to embed its projectors inside devices like phones, so that the gadget makers sell their devices with these projectors inside them. Embedded devices are expected to boost sales volumes.

Given the current progress and estimates from makers of the green laser -- a key component of Microvision projectors -- an embedded device would be commercially viable between end-2011 and mid-2012, Microvision CEO Alexander Tokman said in an interview.

Tokman, a former GE executive in his fifth year as CEO of Microvision, aims to get an embedded projector out by mid-2012 and believes this will be rapidly taken up by original equipment manufacturers.

"Our profitability starts about six months after we introduce the first embedded projector inside a smartphone or other device, where we can get volumes of a million or more," he told Reuters.

Founded in 1993, Microvision -- whose rivals include Texas Instruments and privately held Light Blue Optics -- is valued at just over $150 million and has racked up more than twice that amount in net losses since it began.

The explosive growth of smartphones, Apple's iPad and other tablet devices has boosted the prospects for Microvision's products, which could see a ready market for its embedded devices.

By 2014, embedded devices will make up about half of sales and thereafter be the dominant product, Tokman said.

"The embedded projector will become a staple of every smartphone, digital camera, gaming device, notebook and tablet," he said.

Microvision is highly reliant on green laser technology for the commercially viable production of its projectors, and a supply crunch is its biggest challenge on the path to large-scale production.

GREEN FOR GO

The laser-based display technology provider's current pico projection engine uses red and blue laser diodes and a frequency doubled synthetic green laser to create a full-color image.

Direct green lasers -- capable of producing green light natively, unlike synthetic lasers that are infrared tweaked to reduce their wavelength to emit green light -- can greatly simplify the design and manufacturing process.

Though they afford size, power consumption and cost benefits, they are plagued by a lack of suppliers, unlike blue and red lasers, whose supply has been driven by the optical storage and Blu-ray player markets.

"The good news is that there are about five global players now that are developing and will commercialize direct green laser by late-2011 to mid-2012," Tokman said.

Last month, Corning Inc, a supplier of synthetic lasers, said it would halt development and commercialization of the lasers given the rapid development of native green laser technology.

Microvision shares dropped by nearly a fifth within a week of the news, but Tokman is not overly concerned.

The company has integrated the first direct green laser samples from two manufacturers into pico projector prototypes, and Tokman is confident that direct green laser diodes can meet performance requirements.

Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Ian Geoghegan and S. John Tilak

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