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The Future of Communication Technology: Jon Karafin Of Light Field Lab On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other

An Interview With David Liu

Running a deep tech start-up during your first world-crippling pandemic.

The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Karafin, CEO and founder of Light Field Lab.

Jon Karafin has dedicated his career to innovation in live action cinema, VFX post-production, and light field technology, transforming bleeding-edge concepts into market ready solutions. As CEO of Light Field Lab, a breakthrough technology startup, Karafin applies his expertise to designing the world’s most advanced, scalable holographic systems. Karafin holds multiple graduate degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and BFAs in multiple fields from Ithaca College.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My “backstory” is rooted in photonics and visual effects technology, having previously held executive roles at Lytro, RealD, and Digital Domain. During my tenure at Lytro, we helped usher in a new era of cinematic capture through the launch of Lytro Cinema, the highest resolution holographic light field capture system. During this time, I also helped produce technology and content for many of the highest-grossing feature films of all time, including Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Michael Bay’s Transformers, and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

These technological achievements were transformational for visual effects and content creation. With this said, enabling next-generation light field capture systems are analogous to showcasing the world’s first digital color video camera as a series of black and white photographs. While content creation is critical, holographic display is the holy grail of visual communication, with promise to literally impact every industry across all facets of our lives. Fast forward to the inception of Light Field Lab and the introduction of SolidLight™ technology, combining unprecedented size, resolution, and density to form SolidLight Objects that accurately move, refract and reflect in physical space.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My “origin story” dates way back to my grad school days. As a continuation of my thesis, I spent over two years living and manufacturing out of a 250 square foot studio where I laboriously hand-fabricated tens-of-thousands of microbial fuel cell parts capable of transforming chemical into electrical energy through the action of living yeast cultures. The effort powered a 25-foot-tall, two-ton, biomechanical living sculpture exhibiting the seven prerequisites for life, including self-illumination, reproduction and growth. Unexpectedly, the culmination of this work was featured in “Ripley’s — Believe It or Not!”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do or do not. There is no try.” –Yoda

After seeing Star Wars for the first time, who among us hasn’t tried to use the Force to levitate things? If you just focus all your energy on that one tiny object, why couldn’t you be the first to demonstrate telekinesis? Well, of course your intellectual side already knows it’s just movie magic, but… who invented these laws of physics? And maybe just this once you can use your mind to move that thing you’ve been intently staring at… and if you’re going to do something that you’ve already been told is impossible — there is no try. Do or do not.

When founding Light Field Lab, we knew we were taking on a seemingly insurmountable task to realize real digital holograms. Reflecting on the last five years, we’ve done some transformational things that will redefine the way the world communicates, already amassing over 300 filed patents and $35 million invested from the likes of Samsung, Verizon, Comcast/Universal, Bosch, Vinod Khosla, and numerous others, with the best yet to come.

Hard things are worth doing. In Yoda we trust.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am deeply grateful for my co-founders Brendan Bevensee and Ed Ibe, and my executive team John Dohm and Jeff Barnes. Without all of them, Light Field Lab would simply not exist.

I am grateful for every single employee at Light Field Lab. Without all of them, SolidLight would not be possible.

I am grateful for all of our investors that believed in our vision. Without all of them, the holographic future would — in fact — be impossible.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

You see with your brain — not your eyes.

Humans have a deeply rooted psychological need to experience, understand, and recreate the world around us. Physical objects and the holographic counterparts provide for better memory and cognition as the brain’s visual cortex evolved in the real world over millions of years, whereas 2D images and flat displays only trigger a subset of neural pathways involved in visual processing. Although the 2D medium represents an infinitesimally small percentage of our collective evolutionary timeline, we spend more time today on flat 2D displays than we do anything else in our entire waking lifetime.

From paintings to photographs, black and white to color, analogue to digital, and now flat panel to immersive display — literally every technological innovation in visual communication strives to recreate reality. SolidLight enables software and photons to create physical objects. As implementations are available in future installations, SolidLight will help bring people closer together by enabling better quality communications and entertainment for all.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on?

Light Field Lab is reinventing visual communication. We recently unveiled SolidLight, the highest resolution holographic display platform ever designed, to reshape communications across entertainment, advertising, public venues, and corporate installations. Untethered to headgear, SolidLight enables viewers to interact with digital objects in the physical world that escape the screen and merge with reality.

Light Field Lab’s technologies combine unprecedented size, resolution, and density to project SolidLight Objects. The directly emissive modular SolidLight Surfaces form dense converging wavefronts with billions of pixels of photonic resolution. These SolidLight Surfaces scale to accommodate a wide range of next-generation entertainment, advertising, and commercial applications with an eye towards mass-production in the future to support consumer markets.

How do you think that will help people?

There is no doubt that the evolution of the metaverse (virtualization of the real word) will shift how we interact with technology, merging the physical and digital worlds in ways we’ve only seen in sci-fi movies until now. As today’s 2D flat panel manufacturers reach a ceiling for scaling display size, resolution, and density, Light Field Lab’s technologies already exceed these barriers enabling true holographic experiences today.

Holographic technology will create an entirely new ecosystem dedicated to delivering content that leverages a closer relationship with the physical and digital world. We look forward to bringing people together through these shared virtual experiences, from concerts and tradeshows to in-world gaming, movies, and interactive e-commerce — all without headgear or other experience-inhibiting accessories.

How do you think this might change the world?

SolidLight provides content creators with existing tools and workflows, as well as an entirely new creative medium bound only by the limits of their imagination. The ability to replace physical things with SolidLight Objects will allow consumers and professionals alike to reinvent communications as we know it today.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

As the future of the metaverse continues to unfold, skeptics fear the virtualization of the real world will cause people to lose touch with reality. However, the merging of the physical and virtual world is a natural progression of technology and has been happening for decades (from the onset of the internet and cell phones to virtual meetings and in-world activations). We believe the advent of true holograms will have a dramatic impact on how we communicate and connect to people in the future without the confines of headgear, fostering the growth of truly immersive and positive shared virtual experiences.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Like many other legendary Silicon Valley startup stories, my co-founders (Brendan Bevensee and Ed Ibe) and I left the cushy security of our prestigious full-time jobs and founded Light Field Lab in a garage.

But this wasn’t like any other garage. No — this garage featured luxurious amenities like museum-worthy knob and tube wiring, that when not self-igniting, powered our ergonomic hybrid desk/1970’s combo washer/dryer. The garage also offered the convenience of in-room, overnight automotive parking and showcased a nearly carbon-neutral footprint through the distinct lack of anything resembling insulation, air conditioning, or heat.

But through it all, we never really thought about the working conditions or facilities because of our photonic obsession to enable the holographic future. In the beginning, we had proverbial napkin sketches of the never-before-seen physics as the premise of our company — which continued not to be demonstrated for many months of hard-labor and sweat-equity (with the sweat partially contributed to by way of our carbon-neutral facilities). However, the tipping point occurred after many months of “successful failures,” where I accidentally started a small fire (unbeknownst to Brendan) during a nanoparticle process trial. After the smoke settled and when looking past the soot-covered charred remains, I saw something extremely interesting — something that we had not yet seen before. I saw the realization of our company.

I proudly called Brendan and Ed over to see. They gathered around, intently looked at the achievement, and then said without hesitation — “we invented fire, congrats.” But then I quickly redirected their attention to a nearby microscope to help pinpoint the almost invisible region that demonstrated that our conceptual physics were real.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Initially, Light Field Lab plans to integrate SolidLight into corporate and entertainment applications. In addition, SolidLight WaveTraces™ content in real-time to ensure future consumer product readiness across next generation networks. To facilitate widespread adoption, Light Field Lab co-founded the standards body IDEA, the Immersive Digital Experience Alliance for Advanced Holographic Display Distribution Standards, and has recently published a draft of the open source holographic media format standards to further enable the future consumer adoption of holographic technologies across all devices.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them, of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

The shift in the workplace from in-person exchanges to interactions through a virtual space accelerated throughout the pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders pushed companies toward remote collaboration and communication tools for onboarding, training, and meetings. While some of these platforms go beyond traditional 2D screens, there are limitations inhibiting successful engagement during these interactions.

This signals an opportunity for new technological innovations to enhance remote environments, ultimately leading towards fully immersive virtual telepresence. By enabling digital objects to exist in the physical world, SolidLight holograms will play a crucial role in fostering the growth of shared virtual experiences and make us feel more connected to others. As consumer technologies continue to evolve the metaverse, virtual communications will step out of the workplace and into our everyday lives.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

I’m always on the lookout for a book called:

“The Official Silicon Valley CEO’s Guide to:

  1. Running a deep tech start-up during your first world-crippling pandemic.
  2. What to do upon the threat of international war and world-wide instability.
  3. Financial advice in case of a pending global economic crisis.
  4. Sourcing materials from a non-existent supply chain.
  5. Most importantly, what to do in the impossibly unlikely event that all the above occur simultaneously? I mean, it can’t actually all happen within a few years just after founding a company, right?”

If you come across this book or can accurately predict the future, let me know. We’re hiring!

I am looking forward to the second edition of the Official CEO’s Guide updated to include “How You Built Your Very Own Time Machine Yesterday in 10 Easy Steps.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I hope to inspire people to join the holographic revolution.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can stay updated on Light Field Lab and the latest SolidLight news by following the company’s work online via LinkedIn, Twitter or visiting https://www.lightfieldlab.com/.

In addition, you can sign up for “HoloWire,” Light Field Lab’s quarterly digital publication that covers state-of-the-art holographic trends and holographic and immersive technologies.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication

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