Displair: Air, water, pictures!
Maxim Kamanin, CEO of Displair, got the idea of making a display with images projected into the air with the help of water particles in 2010, when he was coming to the end of his studies of programming at Astrakhan State Technical University. Having studied physical theories, Maxim was convinced that the technology required to put the project into practice already existed. June 7, 2013
This start-up project was listed among our Top-50 last year. Before the announcement of its June rating results, RBTH asked the company’s founders what they have achieved since the release of our previous rating.
Displair didn’t meet the application deadline for inclusion in the second ratings publication. However, the project has made a huge leap forward, and RBTH took note of this fact.
The main achievement reached by Displair this year is the completion of work on the first commercial model of the Displair interactive air display, and the set-up of its production in China. At the end of March the company’s management officially opened pre-sales in Russia and around the world. In the first week Displair received more than 700 orders, and by June more than 300 equipment items had been shipped to clients. The project is devoting particular attention to markets in the U.S., Britain, Russia, Japan, China, Ireland and Finland. The displays are now being sold through a network of distributors, six in four countries - U.S., Spain, Russia and Kazakhstan.
The project concept remains the same – creating equipment and programs for the most natural visualisation of digital data, for natural gesture-control of content, and file transmission. However, the founders have ambitious plans. “Our future plans include developing and distributing our Airlike application, which enables file-exchange between smartphones and Displair – just by swiping the screen of one device to the screen of the other” says Danil Tikhomirov, a company representative. Another area which interests Displair is education. The company is promising to organise special events for programmers in summer.
In early 2103 Displair received some additional investment injection. This means that the overall amount of investment has gone up to US$3.5 million. (Last year: seed round – $146,000, additional installment – $1 million. Investors: Leta GIV, Esther Dyson, Adrien Henni (East-West Digital News), Bastian Godska (Acrobator), Anton Karasevich, Aleksandr Baderko and others.)
By the time he graduated, Kamanin had the theoretical knowledge to start his project, which was submitted for the Seliger 2010 Youth Forum. “The invitation [to the forum] came as a surprise, but I was even more surprised when the organizers asked me to bring a working prototype with me,” Kamanin recalls. He made the first functional model in just a couple of weeks, with the help of his father and brother, and took it to the forum. The first Displair was a combination of a projector and a screenless display that allowed images to be projected from the computer.
The prototype was far from perfect, but it was singled out by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, which generated the interest of journalists and businesses.
Inspired by his success, Kamanin redoubled his efforts, enlisting the help of friends, who worked feverishly to produce the first successful test sample of the display by 2011. The display had multi-touch functionality for controlling images using gestures. The system is capable of registering up to 1,500 touches simultaneously, with a response rate of less than 0.2 seconds, making the number of users operating the system at the same time virtually unlimited. Images are projected onto a 4 millimeter-thick stream of air with water particles so small that when they collide with physical bodies – users’ fingers or any other object – they remain firm due to the surface tension and leave no wet traces.
The model helped the Astrakhan students win various prizes for innovation across the country, including Technocup 2011, System Sarov 2011 and the Zvorykin Prize.
“Once TechCrunch and Mashable wrote about the Russian project, our inbox almost exploded,” says Andrei Melnikov, operational director of Displair. “We were inundated with letters from investors, well-wishers and people wanting to know when the new device would be available.”
Despite the interest in the project, the first third-party finance for Displair only came at the beginning of 2012. The company got $146,000 in seed investment, which was used to pay the rent and hire staff. Displair currently has more than 50 employees. It then received an additional $1 million, which was spent on the company’s experimental and production premises, further work to turn the prototype into a saleable product and marketing activities. “You need an international network for a completely new product to have more than just sporadic sales in your own region,” Kamanin says.
The device generates a 30-inch, 60x45-centimeter display with picture quality sufficient to read texts.
The system consumes one liter of water an hour; the water tank is big enough for eight hours of continuous operation.
The company plans to make stationary Displair models to be integrated into water supply systems.
The imagery can be additionally flavored by installing a fragrance system capable of switching between aromas.
Finland’s Fog Screen produced the first prototype of a screenless display a decade ago, in the early 2000s. The system uses airflow with water particles as a screen. Its limited interactivity, however, is a major drawback – the Finnish developers have to make use of Kinect (Microsoft’s development for the Xbox game console), which has certain shortcomings.
Some American and Russian developers are also working on “air screens,” but Displair doesn’t regard them as competitors for various reasons. “First, their products are much bulkier – their devices weigh between 80 and 200 kilograms, whereas ours weighs a mere 10 kilograms,” Melnikov says. “Another important aspect is their interactive capability. None of them have the multi-touch option; single-touch control is the best they can offer. Finally, there is the core audience. Of all the companies developing the air screen, only Displair caters for mass consumers, whereas the others focus on business, especially showbiz and advertisement.”
When it comes to real competitors, Displair is concerned most about the makers of LCD, LED and touchscreen solutions. “There are other factors that show this, besides our desire to enter the consumer market with this technology. In Japan, touchscreen terminals that are used to pay for services or buy tickets are not very popular. They are obsessed with hygiene, which is a feature of their mentality; however, in this situation, like in any other requiring touching something, the air display solution will come in quite handy,” Melnikov says.
The company is preparing the first commercial model of the device for production, while pursuing further upgrade of its technology and extension in the product range. Displair systems will be produced in the special economic zone of Zelenograd near Moscow, and the first commercial batch is expected to be completed in spring 2013.
Displair have been approached by Samsung and LG about developing the technology together. But the Russian entrepreneurs are in no hurry to share their secrets, preferring to keep control of their product and their business.
“Since we raised the first investments for the project, we have the chance – as well as the desire – to create a truly strong company,” Melnikov says. “That’s why we are focusing on hiring competent professionals. We have outgrown regional and national markets when it comes to personnel. We employ the world’s top R&D and finance specialists, and we plan to develop the company by engaging the best people.”
|Name: Displair||Website: Displair.com|
Concept:Displair is an interactive screenless display that projects any image onto an air screen that is completely permeable for physical objects. The device features multi-touch functionality enabling the user to control images in the air using hand movements, as well as a fragrance system capable of rapidly switching between aromas.
Unique selling point:The world’s first interactive multi-touch air display.
Start date:August 2010
Financing:Seed round - $146,000, additional installment - $1 million. Investors: Leta GIV, Esther Dyson, Adrien Henni (East-West Digital News), Bastian Godska (Acrobator), Anton Karasevich, Aleksandr Baderko and others.
Development plans:International sales are set to begin in March 2013. New products to be unveiled every six months. Sales in the consumer market by 2018.
COO: Andrei Melnikov a.melnikov@Displair.com, +7 967 821 33 30
Account Manager: Albert Yenaleev, a.yenaleev@Displair.com, +7 917 180 99 70
International Communications: Elena Gusarova, e.gusarova@Displair.com, +7 8512 49 25 23
Public Relations: Danil Tikhomirov, d.tikhomirov@Displair.com, +7 903 378 61 60