More innovations and faster market launches. This is the goal of TNO Technology Transfer, a recently established programme that already includes about twenty projects. These promising start-ups include Tiledmedia, in which four of TNO’s people are involved. “TNO introduced us to an investment network. After we had made our pitch, we were approached by several interested parties.”
Hans Boumans, TNO’s Technology Transfer Manager, explains that “We plan to use Technology Transfer to get off to a flying start. In this way, we hope to generate new business and jobs using technologies developed here at TNO.” In the meantime, TNO has developed an extensive network of investors who are keen to help start-ups whose promising technologies are ripe for the market. In addition, TNO has established a €75 million investment fund, together with the Twente and Eindhoven universities of technology, Wageningen Research and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN). This fund is intended for high-tech start-ups that focus on major social issues, such as climate change, care, mobility and nutrition.
Ten start-ups per year
In establishing Technology Transfer, TNO’s goal is to play a more active role in encouraging its employees to start their own businesses. These are often enthusiastic TNO people who, after a lengthy period of research, are keen to take on the challenge of developing the things they have worked on for years into a tangible product or service. “From the lab to the factory floor”, as Hans says. Technology Transfer should produce about ten start-ups per year.
Temporary minority interest
“Several co-workers have already said that they are keen to try this”, says Hans. “We help them develop a business plan, then put them in touch with potential investors and offer them all possible assistance. And because we know these new entrepreneurs very well and have confidence in their plans, TNO usually takes a minority interest in their fledgling companies. We usually remain shareholders for a period of one to five years. Where necessary, we also take a seat on the supervisory board. In this way, we can be intensively involved in the company’s development, and can provide support (in various fields of expertise) during the development phase.”
“We know these new entrepreneurs very well and have confidence in their plans. This is why TNO usually takes a temporary minority interest in their fledgling companies”
Tiledmedia: innovative technology for virtual reality
These twenty promising start-ups include Tiledmedia, in which four of TNO’s people are involved. Frits Klok (the CEO) and Rob Koenen (CBDO; business development) both have about 25 years’ experience of telecom, media and networks. They are currently working part-time on the expansion of the company, in addition to their work for TNO. The ‘boots on the ground’ are Ray van Brandenburg (CTO) and Arjen Veenhuizen (COO). After having worked at TNO for many years, they are now devoting their full attention to Tiledmedia. At TNO they developed technology for transferring uncompressed, very high-resolution video files through existing networks, to any required device. They now want to use this technology to conquer the world. We put five questions to Ray and Arjen, about their technology and about how TNO helped them set up their new business.
How did it all start?
Ray replies “We’ve shown that it’s possible to transfer high-quality videos (from full HD to 4, 8, or 16K) via a standard broadband connection, without any loss of quality, to your TV or tablet at home. Consumers can even zoom in and out, and select specific camera positions. Nothing like that had ever been seen before. We already had a prototype that we had developed in a large European project, together with parties like Alcatel-Lucent, Fraunhofer (TNO’s German counterpart), and the BBC. We also cooperated with the BBC on experiments to get the technology into people’s living rooms. That’s all well and good, but the product was not fully finished. There was also the question of whether or not there was a viable market for it. So we threw out all of the technology we’d built over the past few years and started over again.”
Where do you see opportunities now?
Arjen points out that “The idea behind the technology itself and the concepts we’ve been working on are ideally suited to virtual reality, or VR. We used some of the technology we had previously developed for this idea. This was the technology for transferring uncompressed, very high-resolution video files through existing networks, to any required device. The secret is to cut the images up into small pieces or ‘tiles’, and only send those fragments that the user actually needs at that precise moment in time. While VR headsets give you a video image with a 360-degree field of view, at any given time you are only looking at a part of this image. Similarly, visitors to Mesdag’s Panorama can’t see the whole painting at a single glance either. Our software slices the images into pieces and detects the direction of the user’s gaze (on the screen of the VR headset) at any given time. Computer processing takes just a thousandth of a second to translate changes into an image.”
Who are Tiledmedia's potential customers?
Arjen replies “The content delivery networks (or CDNs), which provide the distribution facilities for major entertainment companies or broadcasters. Then there are telecom and cable companies, Disney, YouTube, you name it. Similarly, travel agencies can offer their clients the chance to explore distant cities or a jungle, using a VR headset. Other companies use this approach to cure people of their phobias. Instead of actually walking along a scary, narrow mountain path, you can have the very same experience using extremely realistic images.”
“We approached TNO with our idea and said that we would really like to develop this further, in a company of our own. We soon reached agreement, and TNO did everything possible to help us”
How do the distributors of the video images benefit from the use of the VR headset?
Ray explains that “The images are of much better quality than those that can now be transferred via existing networks. Alternatively, they can decide to make savings. We can cut costs by a factor of six. So it’s a choice between maintaining the current quality using just a sixth of the bandwidth, or delivering image quality that is six times better, while continuing to pay the current rates and using the previous amount of bandwidth. In addition, consumers will get a much higher quality product.”
How is the relationship with TNO going?
Ray notes that “Last year, when we first had this idea for VR, we approached TNO and said that we would really like to develop this further, in a company of our own. We soon reached agreement, and TNO did everything possible to help us. During the first few months we worked from home. These days we rent space in the Het Industriegebouw building, in Rotterdam. TNO introduced us to a Rabobank investment network. After we had made our pitch, we were approached by several interested parties. There is still a lot of work to be done, to make our product suitable for all operating systems and devices. That will take money. We are very hopeful that we will get what we need. We have set our sights on the big prize.”