Interview with ASKA3D's investor, Makoto Otsubo-2-1

2nd Chapter: 〜The Road to ASKA3D's Commercialization Part1
Interview with ASKA3D's investor, Makoto Otsubo-2-1

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Table of Contents:

  1. Participation in Asukanet and Prototype Development

Debut at Trade Shows and Significant Progress at Asukanet

Joining Asukanet and Prototype Development

In the previous interview, we heard about the story from the inception of the aerial display concept to just before joining Asukanet. Please tell us about the situation at Asukanet when you joined.

I joined Asukanet in March 2011, when The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake occurred. I vividly remember that it occured during my relocation process from Oita to Hiroshima.

At Asukanet, we started the project with three members: the executive officer in charge of the project, the manager, and myself as the developer. Our initial mission was to travel nationwide with Mr. Fukuda (the founder of Asukanet who retired as chairman in 2020), seeking continued business with the manufacturing subcontractors. We focused on visiting companies that had been involved in the basic development, and I recall that negotiations went very smoothly.

What exactly does the basic development of ASKA3D entail?

ASKA3D's aerial display is something that has never existed before. While it was geometrically understood that it could be realized through the principle of orthogonal mirrors, manufacturing it as an actual product required a lot of research and development.

Starting from material selection to adhesive composition, vapor evaporation methods, structural issues, and other unknown problems, we worked from scratch, groping our way through unfamiliar territory until it took shape. This process can be considered as the basic development of ASKA3D.

What were the ASKA3D plates like at that time?

Initially, development started with small sizes, around 150mm square. We chose this size because it conveniently matched the dimensions of the polishing equipment available at the time.

Together with the manager, we visited subcontractors to discuss the future productization and mass production of these 150mm square plates, engaging in sales activities to gain consensus. Before joining Asukanet, I had handled not only development but also sales activities and financial matters almost by myself, so having the manager's support was immensely reassuring.

By 2011, the basic development mentioned above was largely completed, but there was a significant challenge: the images were too dim. Although aerial images have a sweet spot at a 45-degree angle, they appeared very dim even at that angle. Since our debut exhibition at a trade show was scheduled for the fall of 2011, we urgently needed to address this brightness issue.

It seems there was an issue with the brightness of the aerial images, and they were still dim when you joined Asukanet.

I had concerns about the brightness, so I made efforts during demonstrations to shine direct light onto the aerial images from a high-brightness projector to show them. At that time, the vision of commercializing the aerial display was not clear with conventional displays.

Interestingly, I actually presented twice before joining Asukanet, and the first presentation was not successful. Fortunately, Mr. Fukuda gave me another chance for a second presentation, which led to the opportunity to work on development at Asukanet.

After joining the company, we managed to resolve the brightness issue by adjusting the aspect ratio of the mirrors' pitch and height, and we somehow managed to make it in time for the fall exhibition.

The first exhibition and significant progress at Asukanet

What was the reaction like at the first exhibition (Sign & Display Show 2011)?
Before joining Asukanet, there hadn't been opportunities to showcase the aerial display in large-scale events like exhibitions. Therefore, there was a significant response at the first exhibition. Since it was something entirely new to the world, it garnered a lot of attention, drawing interest from various organizations, including major corporations, venture companies, universities, and corporate research institutions.

However, the ASKA3D plates exhibited were still in the early stages, at the level of samples or prototypes. Of course, the manufacturing system was not yet established, and we exhibited the best samples we could produce in small quantities.

Many companies exploring embedded applications were interested and requested samples for basic research purposes. However, we couldn't fulfill these requests due to the inability to produce large quantities, making each unit prohibitively expensive at the time, which left us feeling regretful.

Sign & Display Show 2011 booth & exhibit

Please tell me about your activities afterward.

After successfully exhibiting at the trade show for the first time, we embarked on the mission of mass production development with the goal of maintaining quality while producing large quantities inexpensively. We secured sufficient budget from the company and were able to undertake bold development efforts.

We engaged in collaborative research with companies in Kyoto and Hiroshima, working closely with the engineers of our partner companies to achieve our development goals. The primary objective was to acquire core competencies through this collaboration.

Additionally, we worked concurrently on cost reduction for manufacturing 150mm square plates and initiatives to raise awareness of aerial displays in society. I believe that our participation in exhibitions such as CEATEC was made possible by Asukanet's resources. Thanks to this, we received the Semi-Grand Prix in the Key Technology category at CEATEC JAPAN 2013, which significantly increased our recognition.

CEATEC AWARD 2013 Key Technology Division Semi-Grand Prix Award for unique technology

Since joining Asukanet, it seems that ASKA3D's aerial display has made significant strides towards realization. What were the contributing factors?

First and foremost was the ample development budget. In my previous company, we tried to minimize waste and focused on developing and verifying fundamental aspects. However, without sufficient resources, we were stuck at the stage of showcasing our technology as a venture company, and the path to commercialization seemed challenging. With the foundation laid in the past and the substantial budget allocated after joining Asukanet, we were able to accelerate towards commercialization significantly.

The second factor was resolving the brightness issue. By solving this problem through aspect ratio adjustments, we achieved a brightness level suitable for practical aerial imaging. This allowed us to realize aerial images that could be commercialized adequately using conventional monitors. Considering that we had previously struggled to maintain brightness by forcibly using projectors, this progress was substantial.

After joining Asukanet, we were provided an environment where we could focus on development without being constrained by financial or sales activities, which also contributed to our progress.

The rest of this article will be distributed in next week's post.

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