With applications such as pico-projectors, head-up displays (HUDs), and gesture sensing, MEMS based optical engine platforms are quickly emerging to become the next “killer app” in the MEMS and microsystems component market. We spoke with Matan Naftali, the CEO of an Israeli startup company Maradin that is active in the optical MEMS technology sector. In this comprehensive interview, Matan outlines the competitive landscape and supply chain, discusses the ongoing trends with component prices, explains existing technology challenges, and provides an extensive list of applications.
MEMS Journal: What does Maradin do? What is the company’s main product and for which applications? Do you provide just silicon or other solution components as well?
Matan Naftali: Maradin develops and markets an innovative solution, based on MEMS technology of scanning mirror and its controller IC, designed to serve as the core component of miniature laser projection and sensing systems. Applications include pico-projectors, head-up displays (HUDs), gesture sensing, and others.
Maradin offers a fully integrated scanning mirror solution, comprising of a 2D MEMS scanning mirror chip and an electronics chip (controller IC) responsible for mirror driving and control.
Diagram 1: laser scanning projector engine based on Maradin’s 2D MEMS mirror technology (source: Maradin).
MEMS Journal: Where did the company’s technology come from and what is the company’s history?
Matan Naftali: Maradin was founded in 2007 by three founders, veterans of the Israeli semiconductors and electro-optics defense industry, who had a dream of utilizing their knowledge in MEMS technologies into a useful product. Maradin founders brought lots of experience in system design in general and in MEMS products in particular, which up to today serves as the foundation of the company’s technology.
Diagram 2: illustration of Maradin’s 2D MEMS scanning mirror (source: Maradin).
MEMS Journal: What is your vision for Maradin? How do you see the company five years from now?
Matan Naftali: Our vision of Maradin is that it will become a global market leader in scanning markets and will continue to lead in innovative technology both for MEMS devices and MEMS drivers. In 5 years from now, I see Maradin’s chips as part of a variety of consumer products enabling our day-to-day basic use.
MEMS Journal: Who do you consider you main competitors? What differentiates Maradin from these competitors?
Matan Naftali: In our business there are two levels of competition. The first level is a direct competition from other MEMS companies who offer similar products. Fortunately, market entry barriers are high in terms of performance and cost, and thus there are not many of such competitors. We differentiate ourselves from these competitors in two ways: one, by bringing a full solution of both the MEMS device and its drivers to our clients, and two, by bringing cutting edge performance.
The second level of competition is from companies which provide alternative solutions, using other technologies. However, we believe that in the markets we are focusing on, MEMS technology could provide the best effective solution, both in performance and in cost. In this case, we differentiate ourselves by addressing markets in which we believe we could do more with our MEMS based solution.
Table 1: a comparison for various types of technology platforms for MEMS optical engines (source: Maradin).
MEMS Journal: Many companies are currently pursuing micro mirror technologies for display, scanner and other applications. What does Maradin bring to the marketplace that is truly unique? What are the main upcoming milestones on your technology roadmap?
Matan Naftali: Indeed, there are few companies pursuing micro-mirror technology. However, there is a big difference between performance requirements of micro-mirrors for displays and other scanning applications such as bar-code readers. That difference effects the technology used dramatically.
Maradin brings to the marketplace not just a silicon chip, but a full solution. It reflects a paradigm change in how the product should be. We understand the needs of our clients in fast integration, thus we provide a very integrative solution, to include also drivers for the MEMS. Our clients don’t need to develop electronics or control schemes for the scanner by themselves; we provide it.
Nevertheless, this is not enough and we understand that we must provide a truly good product in verity of aspects such as: size, price, resolution etc. For that, a unique MEMS technology has been developed in the fields of actuation schemes, sensing and control and the fabrication methods of the MEMS to comply with all of the above.
As of today, Maradin approaches it final steps of development and have shipped chipset samples of our product and evaluation kits to selected customers. We are currently in production ramping up and we expect the market to take off by end of 2013.
MEMS Journal: Which applications are you targeting first? Why these applications? What are the other applications that you eventually plan to enter with Maradin’s technology and products?
Matan Naftali: It is very hard to tell, as current markets for scanning mirrors are still in an embryonic stage. In Maradin, we develop a technological platform that fits into a verity of applications such as: pico-projectors for consumer mobile devices, head-up-displays, gaming consoles and interactive interfaces. We see a move in all market segments and we don’t pursue a particular application. That is one of the benefits of providing a device rather than a full system.
As green lasers have just recently stopped being a bottle neck for the pico-projectors market segment, we expect it to mature rapidly. However, at the end of the day, I see Maradin in all the above segments.
Table 2: potential applications for Maradin’s technology (source: Maradin).
MEMS Journal: What do you see as the top three trends right now with micro mirror technologies?
Matan Naftali: As of today, head-up-displays are a hot topic. We also see interest in a gaming (gesture sensing) and finally in interactive interfaces, a combination of both. I see scanning mirrors technology as an enabler for many more applications to come, that will change the surroundings of our day-to-day life by providing new functionalities in affordable cost.
MEMS Journal: What's your advice for venture capitalists investing in MEMS technology companies? What should they look out for?
Matan Naftali: Venture capitalists should first look at the team and its track record. It is not much different than other fields on investment. However, they should bear in mind that MEMS is “easily said than done”, thus they should look at people with experience. They shouldn’t be afraid of “scars” and failures. It is one indication of experience. Following that, they should make sure there is a technological competitive advantage both on business level and technology level. They should look out for people who say it is “no time” to develop MEMS and it is an immediate sell. They should take into account that a device is always a part of a bigger system and it takes time to integrate it.
MEMS Journal: What advice do you have for emerging MEMS companies and their founders?
Matan Naftali: I think that a good advice is to stay focused on what you do best. Work by stages of development, and don’t try to “put the card before the horses”. Usually, it takes more time and money to fix problems, so start with the most uncertain parts of your technology. In MEMS, I believe that a smart design is such that simplifies manufacturing. Here, manufacturing partners could contribute significantly. And finally, MEMS is a field of many uncertainties. The only measures you could take are hard work and time. Even though people often believe that the market is running away, it usually takes more time than planned to penetrate it, so try to make it an advantage.
MEMS Journal: What are the top three reasons why MEMS companies fail? What’s your advice for MEMS startup company founders on creative ways to finance their ventures?
Matan Naftali: I think that failure is usually caused by under-estimation both of time and money, as well as losing focus. Because of that, strong financial backing is very important. With MEMS technologies, companies tend to come to the market with their “technology” and then try to find a “need”. Therefore, my advice to them is to treat MEMS as the best alternative for creating the best solution for a “need” and not as the main target. And finally, I think it is essential to think at a “system level”. Packaging and integration are very important and affect pricing dramatically in levels that even a good technology could not compensate for.
Financing is an art. It strongly depends on the product and market. I believe that working the financing way up, using angels is a good way to start, and then, to look for other alternatives with deep pockets that could stay for long and back the company if needed. Another option is to work with customers on joint development projects (these are also know as “strategic partners”), or use R&D funds. All funding sources has its pros and cons and it should be considered for every case individually.
At Maradin, we’ve never worked with VCs; instead, up to now we have worked with private investors and R&D funds. Nevertheless, strategic partners are always welcomed.
MEMS Journal: What are the top three MEMS startup companies that you believe have the highest chances of success?
Matan Naftali: There is an amazing progress in MEMS recently and I am not familiar with all companies as most of them keep low profile at early stages. From the ones I know, I believe that Audio Pixels, which develops discrete speakers, will succeed as they use MEMS to change the paradigm in sound creation. I think that Sentcom has a very good chance to prosper with its technology and of course Maradin, but here, I may be a bit biased.
MEMS Journal: What are the main components in typical light engine architecture? Please explain the light source (discuss all major types), optics (MEMS or non-MEMS) and drivers/electronics.
Matan Naftali: In essence, every projection system has three main components: (1) video processor – to interface with the hosting system and process the data according to the projection method; (2) modulator – to give each pixel its information (i.e., color and intensity). The modulator could be a DLP, LCoS or laser drivers (in MEMS scanning mirrors technology); and (3) light sources – to carry the information from the modulator to the screen. It could be LEDs, arc lamp or lasers depending on the projection technology.
In an embedded projection system based on MEMS scanning mirrors, it is practically the same. As can be seen from the following block diagram, the system is based on three basic elements: (1) video processor – interfaces with the hosting system, transfers video data to scanning regime and synchronizes between the projection data and the MEMS mirror position; (2) RGB laser module – includes optics and its drivers; and (3) scanner module to include the MEMS driver (an ASIC) for driving and controlling the MEMS according to video processors synchronization signals and the MEMS – this can either be a 2D scanning mirror (such as in the Maradin solution) or a set of 2 mirrors with 1D scanning.
Diagram 3: Maradin’s embedded projection system based on MEMS scanning mirrors (source: Maradin).
MEMS Journal: Isn’t DLP based on MEMS technology? Please differentiate between MEMS and DLP.
Matan Naftali: The difference between DLP and a MEMS scanning mirror is that DLP is an array of micro-mirrors where each micro mirror is switching the light in an on/off mode and forming a pixel of the projected image.
On the other hand, a 2D scanning mirror is a single mirror steering the laser beam in two axes to create the projected image where pixels are formed by modulation of the laser.
The main differences between a DLP projector and laser scanning projector (LSP) are that in DLP the light source is always on, whereas in LSP the light is on just as needed (to save power). DLP requires relatively complicated focus optics (before light gets to the DLP module) and projection optics (after light leaves the DLP module). On the other hand, LSP requires simple focus optics (before light get to the mirror) and no projection optics (after light leaves the mirror). Also, LSP is focus free (always in focus), whereas DLP requires focusing.
Diagram 4: DLP projector engine (courtesy of Texas Instruments).
MEMS Journal: What are the current challenges facing pico projectors, and how and when these challenges can be overcome?
Matan Naftali: One of the current challenges facing pico-projectors is to find an acceptable combination of required parameters, mainly performance (e.g., image uniformity, resolution, brightness etc.), power consumption (for the total pico-projector) and cost. Current technologies require trading off between these parameters. For instance, DLP based solutions with LEDs offer high performance, however they inferior in cost and power, due to the correlation between performance and chip size. LCoS based solutions, have good pricing point, but the brightness and power consumption is problematic due to the need of polarized light. MEMS is very attractive on power and cost, but using current laser solutions drives the system to be expensive and not that compelling (current green lasers are about $60-70). However, recent progress in low cost green lasers, enabled potential cost reduction (could be about 20$ for the light engine) and thus effected the demand for MEMS based solutions and hopefully, by end of 2012 we should start seeing products with this technology reaching the market in large volumes. This has not solved the performance issue for MEMS based scanning systems. However, cutting edge technology, as Maradin is providing, could overcome this issue.
This article is a part of MEMS Journal's ongoing market research project in the area of MEMS based light engines and pico projectors. If you would like to receive our comprehensive market research report on this topic, please contact Dr. Mike Pinelis at email@example.com for more information about rates and report contents.
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