The brainchild behind Pixel QI technology is Mary Lou Jepsen. She has a bachelors in electrical engineering and art from Brown University, Ph.D in optical sciences from Brown University. Masters in holography from MIT.
She was the co-founder and first chief technology officer of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) a non-profit that generated more than $1B in revenue and helped create $30B in revenue for its for-profit partners. There she designed the $100 Pixel QI laptop with new screen architectures, new very low power management architecture, new battery technology, new mesh networking protocol, and new user interface, and shipped millions of them to children in the developing world.
“She’s very smart and very energetic,” says Jennifer Cosgrove, director at research firm Display Search. “She has relationships with display manufacturers in Taiwan from the OLPC project and she has worked hard to persuade many of them to be part of her new idea.”
The Pixel Qi screen technology was innovative in a few different ways. The main advantage of Pixel Qi e-paper displays over conventional LCDs is mainly that they can be set to operate under transflective mode and reflective mode, improving eye-comfort, power usage, and visibility under bright ambient light. Existing factories can easily produce this screen tech without any additional equipment.
It had the unique ability to increase your battery life by more than 50% through its ability to be completely functional in direct sunlight by simply turning off the display backlight which is not needed. “Effectively what doing is creating a hybrid display that combines the best of E Ink and regular LCDs,” says Robert Barry, director of business development for Team Research, a company that makes an e-book reader called the Astak Mentor.”
She currently is the founder and CEO of Openwater, a new moonshot program and here is what it promises. “What if you could see what was going on in your brain or body with the detail of a high resolution camera or MRI machine in a simple wearable? Openwater is creating a device that can enable us to see inside our brains or bodies in great detail. With this comes the promise of new abilities to diagnose and treat disease and well beyond – communicating with thought alone.”
Mary Lou believes her technology will be 99.9% cheaper than MRIs (that’s an actual estimate, not a euphemism); radically smaller (the size of a ski cap, not a bedroom); and that its resolution will exceed that of MRIs by a factor of a billion.
Pixel QI played a pivotal role in the evolution of the modern e-reader industry. They released four million products globally and had some major industry partners willing to try their technology out. They helped shaped what would become the entire tablet industry. Pixel QI helped create the digital publishing industry and brought to the major publishers attention that these little handheld e-readers were the perfect avenue for digital distribution. This in turn helped create a multi-billion dollar e-book industry within a few years.
I think it is fair to say that Pixel QI made E Ink innovate very quickly, and E Ink ended up completely dominating the consumer and professional e-paper market. Competition brings out the best in people and companies. If it wasn’t for Pixel Qi, E Ink would not have been the only game in town.
Maybe there will be a repeat with Openwater's BCI. It will light a fire under other brain-scanner and BCI companies, forcing them to innovate very rapidly.