22 Oct 2013

Slush 2013: NGP, Broadening the mobile imaging horizon

Published on the Slush website 18.10.2013

NGP has actively invested in imaging and image processing services and technologies since 2006.

Nokia Growth Partners believes that imaging investments is a global discipline and linked with the Nokia expertise and competence is a perfect fit for our investment strategy.

Nokia’s innovation in the field of mobile imaging has proven to be an invaluable asset in the search for investment opportunities. In particular, the team behind the innovative PureView experience has been an important source of expertise when gauging start-up companies’ investment potential.

Typically, for every one imaging start-up investment, there are 40 to 50 other potential candidates that are evaluated in the process. Of course, not all these companies need be start-ups.

As an example, one of the bigger companies Nokia has looked at in the past, already out of the start-up phase of growth was Scalado from Lund, many of whose software innovations are already present in the Lumia range today.

Recently, Nokia’s imaging portfolio is beefing up with recent additions like Pelican, InVisage, Heptagon, Morpho and Luminate. Today hundreds of millions of smartphones are carrying technologies created by these companies. Heptagon, for example, is about to ship it’s billionth optical system.

So, what makes these companies so interesting? It’s their ability to provide answers to questions about the future of mobile imaging. Questions like the following:

Can we make a smartphone camera with better resolution than the human eye?
InVisage, an NGP portfolio company based in California, has developed a new image sensing technology based on custom designed nanomaterial that has the potential to deliver image sensors with hundreds of millions of pixels resolution. Depending on how you calculate this is approaching the resolution of a human eye.

Can we make a smartphone that sees at night?
Pelican Imaging achieves this by combining normal image sensing with infrared sensing enable “night vision” cameras in the form of a smartphone.

Can we make a smartphone that peeks around objects and people?

Pelican Imaging technology, together with optical systems from Singapore based Heptagon, provide stereoscopic information to the image capture as a first step to “seeing around objects”. The technology also allows post capture refocusing of people or objects in the image. Or combined with the right software people can effectively be “erased” and the background re-created, “seeing” through people!

Can we automatically create information about content in an image?
Images are becoming “smarter”. More and more information will be stored with images, not only time & date and 3D information but also location and other data that can be appended to the image such as weather, people in the photo and much more. Luminate is working on making all images in the world interactive by categorizing and cataloguing the information in the image. Of course, the information contained in these new image and video types is so rich that new file formats and standards will have to be designed, effectively making mpeg and jpeg formats obsolete. This would allow information to flow freely across platforms and on social networks.

Can we make a smartphone flash that just works?
We all know how difficult it is to shoot flash pictures; too light, too dark or red eyes. Heptagon is working on a multi color directional flash that can balance color of light and direction of light depending of the scene that is shot.

Over the years, Nokia Growth Partners has put together quite an impressive portfolio od imaging innovation. But the search continues. Mobile photography is constantly evolving offering up new investment opportunities with every new breakthrough.

For example, a new imaging revolution is one the way combining 3D information, night vision, hyper resolution capture, powerful onboard signal processing and on the fly automatic editing with artificial intelligence in the cloud.

There has never been a more exciting time to be an investor in the imaging domain.

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