TECH Meets BUSINESS
Nanolux co. ltd. owns a peerless technology, “IR color night vision”. It extracts RGB colors from infrared rays, a technology rooted in identifying the correlation and reflectivity between visible light (which has a wavelength of 400nm-700nm) and near infrared rays (which have wavelengths of 750nm-1.0mm). Founded in 2010, Nanolux practically started operating as a business in 2015 when Motoshi Sobue was appointed as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). IR Color Night Vision technology can be applied in various industries, including the surveillance, automotive and medical industry. If the technology is applied to medical devices such as fundus cameras, these devices would acquire vital data without invasion and physical contact. Nanolux currently has patents globally for the IR color night vision and the relevant IR multi spectrum technologies. The company is aiming for global markets and business partners. It has been funded by powerful multinational enterprises.
Chief Executive Officer of Nanolux Co. Ltd
He obtained M.S. in engineering at Waseda University and another M.A. degree in economics at Duke University, USA. He joined the Bank of Japan in 1989 originally, and expanded his international business career in finance, sales & business strategy at Intel, Dell, and BAT.
He was also Deputy Representative Director at the angel group, TX Entrepreneur Partners.
In October 2015 he was appointed CEO of Nanolux co. ltd.
“A re-start with the idea of bringing outstanding technologies to the world”
― You were appointed CEO in October 2015. Tell us about how that came about.
I came across Nanolux when I was working at the angel group in Japan. The inventor of the technology told me that “I have technology but don’t know how to bring it to the markets”. When the company was founded in 2010, it possessed outstanding technologies. However, they did not focus business development but technology enhancement. Because of lack of commercial motivation, they were unable to deliver products meeting customers’ need. As a result, the company was ended up with financial difficulity.
I came across a CTO, a founder and an inventor of the technologies, and he showed his commitment to the business, saying “I really want to get these technologies started”. At first I provided a mentorship to him when needed. However, it did not move the needle at all. Finally, I decided to accept the position of CEO because the I can see huge business potential. In a certain sense Nanolux made a re-start from that point.
― What was the background to this bold decision?
I immediately found that IR color technology was very distinctive. It can attract customers as the value is straightforward. I can visualize how the technology will benefit our lives.
The company needed someone to execute more than advice. I felt that it’s my turn to pick up the opportunity. If I do something interesting here, I could also find colleagues to work with me.
“A technology using the correlation between visible light and near infrared light that was born out of curiosity”
― Tell us how IR color night vision technology was developed.
Chief Technology Officer originally conducted research into semiconductors and optics. One day by chance, he looked into near IR out of curiosity and found something interesting in the relationship between visible light and near infrared light. When he tried to put colors to a monochrome image in dark, he found a type of patterns. This was the starting point and the impulse for the development of IR color night vision.
AIST was very supportive to protect the technology for the business. IR color technology has been patented and approved globally. In Japan Nanolux and AIST share the ownership at 50/50 with an exclusive right. AIST allows Nanolux to retain international patents at100%. In a way Nanolux retains the technology IP to develop the business.
― What’s the strength of the technology?
A IR color night vision camera looks exactly same as a conventional camera. It has same mechanics and structure as it has a lens, sensor, image processor and IR illuminator. Only the difference is an imaging sensor which separates three IR wavelengths (IR1 IR2 and IR3) despite the visible wavelengths (RGB) in a conventional imaging sensor.
Because the mechanics and structure are same, a IR color night vision camera can inherent all conventional camera features. If we need a compact camera, it can be as small as a mobile camera. If we need a long distance view, it can take an image of the objects more than 500 meter distant with a powerful illuminator and a zoom lens. Although the color reproduction is only an approximation, the color will help to recognize the target objects distinctively.
The market estimate indicates that IR color night vision market will expand to a scale of about USD 5 billion dollars in the year 2025, growing 4x in 5 years. It was anticipated that the use of the technology will expand in the fields of the public infrastructure such as tunnels and expressways, rivers, roads, railways, police, etc., industrial fields such as security and vehicles, medical cameras, etc., and the consumer field such as mobile phones, home security, etc.
Conventional infrared night vision photo
Color infrared night vision photo
“The technology, the business, and the people were all in place, so the next step was a venture company”
― Originally the technology was there, so what was the reason that it could not be brought to the world?
There were the issues of both product and motivation. Regarding a product, an image sensor could not achieve the targeted IR spectral required for color night vision. In addition, the managers’ motivation was not as high as breaking the challenge to produce products for customers.
In fact, when I re-started Nanolux, I realized that it was not easy to fix these issues. I noted that it was difficult to distinguish “true” customer needs from “fake” needs as customers did not know and/or disclose what they need unless they see the products. However, the manufacturing partners did not want to fabricate a product unless they see clear customer demand. Particularly it was true when I ask an imaging sensor fabrication required a large capital.
― What did you do after being appointed CEO?
As I was new to the industry, I knocked all the possible doors to open the opportunities particularly my personal network, including school friends and previous co-workers. The personal network was extremely helpful because they provided me the industry knowledge and business ideas without bias. Such a knowledge cannot be obtained from the business partners since they are intended to seek the commercial benefit for their organization. Eventually the needs is getting more crisp and clear. After a few months following personal connections I formed an vision of the business.
It was also helpful that I had overseas experience in the past. As I worked for multi-national companies, I felt free to explore the business opportunities outside of Japan. At results, most customers and partners are international companies for now. Since overseas companies can make decisions quickly, the opportunities can be sought out in short.
Regarding the finance, a year after being CEO, Nanolux was invested by Taiwan’s top manufacturer ASUS. At that time the cash was left only for 3 more months. When I got a chance to talk with a founder of ASUS, I took an air ticket immediately and visited them on the next day. I gave a presentation to him and his team. Chairman made an investment decision in 90 minutes after we met at the first time. It was an unforgettable moment.
Color night vision camera
― Tell us about your vision for the future.
Nanolux has excellent and experienced engineers. It has strong development partners, e.g., AIST, universities and R&D companies, too. Since IR color is an untouched field, there are plenty of opportunities. Nanolux aims to deliver this new technology in a way to benefit all over the world.
In that sense, Nanolux will focus on two main opportunities. The first is IR color night vision image for surveillance. The second is a vital sensing using IR multi-spectrum data. For later, IR fundus camera was one of the big opportunities. It can provide non-invasive and non-contact health checkup not only for rich counties but also developing counties where the medical doctors are in short. Our dream is to use the technology for better life. It will be in market in a few years.
* The contents of this article are based on information as of Jan 31, 2020.
東京都港区港南2-16-4 品川グランドセントラルタワー 8階
Nanolux co. ltd.
Shinagawa Grand Central Tower,8F, 2-16-4 Konan, Minato-ku Tokyo, Japan 108-0075
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