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Defence industry partnering for success – Voxon Photonics and their 3D display

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@AuManufacturing’s sponsored series reporting on BAE Systems Australia’s Partnering for success defence industry supplier event continues today with a profile of disruptive 3D volumetric display manufacturer Voxon Photonics. By Peter Roberts.

It is a bit of a cliché – the story of a small company that is founded in a backyard garage and demands international attention by coming up with a product that really is unique, disruptive and could have profound implications for world markets.

But such stories really can be true, just as they are with Adelaide business Voxon Photonics and its 3D volumetric display, developed by Gavin Smith (pictured) and Will Tamblyn during their regular Thursday night tinkerings in a garden shed.

If the display looks familiar from the 3D chessboard made famous in the Star Wars movie franchise – it is – except this three dimensional image that can be viewed from any angle is not some illusion. The image really appears to be a solid, 3D object suspended in space.

Smith, CEO of Voxon said: “We eventually settled on trying to do something which was beyond our level of expertise in optics and computing, inspired by science fiction.

“Through experimentation and buying things off EBay – hard rubbish by the road was a source of a lot of spare parts – by 2013 we had built a prototype display which we thought was pretty cool.”

Looking at the image formed by Voxon’s VX1 display in a darkened room near Adelaide’s Flinders University, the word hologram comes to mind. But this is no static 2D object.

“A real hologram is something you see on a credit card.

“It is not interactive and it is not digital and it actually has a very narrow range of views, whereas with a volumetric display you can literally look down on it from above or from any direction.

“So you can have 10 people looking at it and each person can have a distinct view.”

The display is deceptively simple – a screen is vibrated up and down (or a three dimensional helical disk is set spinning in an updated version, the VXR) making it move rapidly through a space, while images of what are essentially slices of a 3D object are projected onto it at 12,000 images a second.

Given the eye’s inability to perceive such rapid changes, known as persistence of vision, the images meld into each other, creating what looks like a floating, solid object.

Smith said: “We are the only company in the world that have a commercially available full volumetric display.

“Volumetric 3D and 3D display comes down to a combination of things, ultra-high speed imaging and very fast computing.

“As a technology company you are always worried about being copied.

“But to reverse engineer the system and write the software it would take a large team and a long time, and you would have to be motivated to go on that journey.”

More than 160 VX1 displays have been sold to universities including Harvard, MIT and Carnegie Melon, and major corporates Sony, Toyota and Nissan.

BAE Systems has one of the larger sized VXR displays which it is using as a research tool supporting Australia’s Hunter Class Frigate Program and the UK Submarine construction business.

A second is being built also for BAE Systems which was introduced to Voxon by the Royal Australian Navy – the navy was intrigued by the company’s terrain viewer software which depicts the undersea and aerial environment in three dimensions.

“We have to be able to render thousands or tens of thousands of images per second in order to do this.

“We are at 12,000 frames per second with the VXR display and we have a range of research going on to further that and also diversify that into other technologies.”

Voxon is also advanced on its first commercial product – a three dimensional version of the venerable Space Invaders arcade game first launched in 1978.

The game IP is owned by Japan’s Taito, a pioneer of electronic arcade games, and licensed to Voxon.

Smith said: “We started working on that back in 2018 and just before Covid happened we delivered our arcade game to Japan for testing.

“We have done technical trials and we are now going into commercial testing here in Adelaide or it might be in Melbourne.

“That will be all about testing the commercial returns on the game before you bring it to market.”

Further reading:

Picture: Voxon Photonics

@AuManufacturing’s series Defence industry partnering for success is sponsored by defence sector prime contractor BAE Systems Australia.

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