Q&A with Jasper Display Corp.
Jasper Display Corp. is a leading designer of spatial light modulators (SLMs) and micro-displays for both LCOS and microLEDs. In 2017, Jasper and partner glō received
an I-Zone Best Prototype Honorable Mention from SID for their megapixel silicon backplane (4K × 2K) and spatial light modulator technology for microdisplays. Information Display recently had the chance to speak with Jasper’s vice president of marketing and engineering, Mike Stover.
Tell us a little about Jasper Display Corp.
Jasper Display Corp. (JDC) has been around since 2010. We see ourselves as a leader in high-resolution backplanes, primarily for liquid-crystal-on-silicon (LCOS) devices. These are active-matrix digital backplanes with digital storage, featuring high bandwidth and flexible addressing. The controllers support very flexible backplane addressing to handle a wide array of modulations.
In the past couple of years, we’ve expanded the space beyond LCOS through a program called “X-on-silicon.” As a result, we found several different ways to enable the use of microLEDs on our backplane silicon so that they are compatible with our controllers and modulation resources.
We’ve been working on this project with several different microLED suppliers, and we’ve made the most progress with a company called glō.
ID: That’s the company you received the I-Zone award in conjunction with, correct?
MS: Yes, glō. This is a company based in California and Sweden, which develops RGB direct-emitting display panels based on gallium-nitride (GaN) nanowire-based microLEDs. This company had the ability to produce microLEDs in different wavelength formulations, and to transfer them onto a substrate. Getting a large collection of them to light up wasn’t possible with passive-matrix approaches, and this is where our active-matrix backplane came in. Additionally, trying to get the right color (or wavelength), and combining light from three microLEDs to produce a known color palette is a big challenge for most microLED companies. So we provided glō with a backplane and controller and modulation methods, as well as our knowledge and experience, and together we achieved the results that won that honorable mention.
There are lots of uses for these backplanes. That next generation of this microLED approach that may have some legs involves augmented-reality (AR) devices. AR displays tend to be used outside, so the added brightness that you get with microLEDs is an advantage.
ID: Do you still consider Jasper a startup?
MS: We do consider ourselves a startup of sorts. We’re small, with about 45 people. We’re somewhere between 15 and 20 here in the Santa Clara Valley, with the rest in Taiwan.
ID: What’s that like, being a cross-continent company?
MS: It’s an unusual arrangement. Our headquarters are in Taiwan, and that’s where most of the manufacturing takes place, but the R&D and the primary drivers behind the company are all here in California. We were founded in the US.
ID: How has that worked for the company?
MS: It’s been pretty good for us, because we do take advantage of the manufacturing environment in Asia. In the US, we have a close association with the technical community here in Santa Clara/Silicon Valley.
ID: What have you been doing in terms of marketing efforts?
MS: Our marketing efforts are primarily through word of mouth. We don’t advertise very much. We think the display community is pretty small and by the time we attend Display Week and various Optical Society of America conferences, we’re pretty well covered.
ID: Did the I-Zone, and especially winning an I-Zone award, have an effect on your business or potential partners?
MS: It’s had a very positive impact on our business and partners. End users liked what they saw and are now willing to put effort and resources behind these kinds of projects to make future displays with greater luminance and saturation that are also more color-correct. These are attributes people are willing to spend money on.
ID: How much are you a licensing company vs. a maker of devices?
MS: While we are a maker of devices, we also recognize that we don’t want to limit a potential market or ramp-up opportunity, and so we will provide the portion that we are really good at, and let other factories and ODM suppliers take over to get the economies of scale they are good at.
ID: What is the biggest challenge that your company faces right now, be it operational or sales or technology?
MS: The biggest challenge is that most of these technologies are really multidimensional and so they require not only the electronics, including the display and the drivers, but optics, and there are a lot of choices to be made in that area. Companies’ optical systems are all different, and this is particularly true for AR, where you are trying to package everything near-to-eye and volume and power are at a premium.
ID: So there’s not a homogeneous approach at this point?
MS: That’s correct. No matter if we’re talking about Microsoft, Google, Apple, or any of the big Chinese companies – everyone is trying to figure out how they want to approach the problem: there’s not a unified way to do it. Everyone wants to do something different right
ID: What plans does the company have for the future?
MS: We will continue to make LCOS backplane technology and also microLED backplane technology that can be customized on a per-project basis. Our specialized silicon capabilities make our products suitable for applications ranging from low-power AR headsets all the way to automotive headlights. We’re especially excited about high-luminance microLEDs, which solve a key problem that AR glasses and HUDs face – namely, viewability in sunlight. There are more advanced circuit techniques and optical techniques that we’re going to be able to use to move beyond the current demonstrated luminance and color-point control, and we think that with certain partners we can enable a new generation of display devices and projector devices that will be very interesting for personal use in the outdoor space.
ID: Do you have advice for anybody in a startup at the same stage of evolution as Jasper is right now?
MS: Yes, stick with it. At the same time, you need to realize that as the company gets bigger, what you’re going to be doing when you really start to be successful is probably not what you started out doing.
Hardware is also a challenge. A lot of people these days are specialists on the software side. They can often quickly get to a successful startup based on an app, for example. With hardware, that’s much harder to do, especially hardware that has both integrated circuit hardware and optics hardware associated with it. •
Mike Stover is VP of engineering and marketing at Jasper Display. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is based on phone and email interviews conducted by Jenny Donelan, editor in chief of Information Display.