IO Industries: London firm teams with Microsoft on cutting-edge gaming technology
Writer:Norman De Bono
A London company’s deal with software giant Microsoft has made it a partner in a multi-million-dollar venture at the cutting edge of gaming technology.
Famed in the industry for the high-speed cameras it makes, IO Industries’ products have been used to film missile and rocket launches for NASA and the U.S. military and in Hollywood motion pictures such as Mission Impossible and The Mummy.
The company’s ability to create high-resolution, high-speed cameras that are small, durable and inexpensive, have now found a whole new market — hologram technology.
Sounding like a futuristic sc-fi premise, the next big wave in entertainment and technology is the use of holograms, specifically the HoloLens made by Microsoft. IO is part of that wave, making the cameras and video recorders that Microsoft is using for its HoloLens.
“It is our biggest opportunity in the history of our company,” said IO president Andrew Sharpe.
To understand what this is, think about wrap-around virtual reality goggles. Microsoft is able to add holographic images to the view though those goggles, so the viewer can see both their actual surroundings and holograms displayed on the screen.
The technology can have many uses, including as a job-training tool, but is largely seen as the next big trend in gaming, said Sharpe.
“It sounds futuristic, but it is happening now,” he said. “We all watched Star Trek and now in 2017 this is becoming a reality.”
Microsoft has bought the 4K cameras and video recorders from IO to create one lab, which features 110 cameras, at a cost of about $1 million per lab.
IO has a second order on the books this month with a different company also working with Microsoft. Within two years, Microsoft, which is partnering with IO, can foresee 17 labs around the world created to do such work.
That’s a potential $17-million market over the next two years.
“These are large deals,” said Sharpe.
“Microsoft has partners that want to build a studio,” such as a gaming or film company. “They are pointing them in our direction. They recommend our gear.”
Taking a cue from his order book, Sharpe will build his own hologram lab on the second floor of his Robins Hill Road building, and lease space to gaming businesses wanting to use holo technology in its game development.
IO’s move into gaming is a boost to the industry in the London area, said the head of the London Economic Development Corp. (LEDC).
“This is an example of technology-intensive manufacturing that is driving growth in Southwestern Ontario,” said Kapil Lakhotia, the LEDC’s chief executive.
“IO is developing leading-edge technology in London. We have a strong cluster of game developers, and this hardware rounds out our game-development sector nicely,” he said.
Sharpe has meetings set up with game development businesses in London to pitch the company’s lab and HoloLens work.
“We will make the lab available for use,” he said.
Microsoft had been trying to develop a HoloLens platform over the last few years and found it a challenge. But Sharpe met with the company at a Las Vegas tech conference, and the relationship grew.
“They found it was more challenging than they thought and more expertise was needed. What they wanted to do was work with a company that had the ability to put the pieces together,” said Sharpe.
To make the HoloLens work, cameras record the imagery, and software — Microsoft’s strength — co-ordinates it into a hologram.
“It is not a simple task,” said Sharpe. “They were receptive to a company building all the pieces they needed.”
Microsoft essentially has to use its software to blend together the imagery the cameras take to create that holographic image.
“We give them the raw data from 110 cameras in the system and their software takes over to generate the holographic image” that is dropped into games, said Sharpe. “It is very complex.”
Besides the company’s new line of business, its traditional work with NASA and the military is growing, added Sharpe.
Those cameras cost from $2,000 to $10,000 each, using high-speed, 4K film,
IO also supplies cameras for the sports sector, including goal-line detection systems for English Premiere League football, and has opportunities to supply cameras for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Korea.
IO has been in a new, stand-alone, 14,000-sq.-ft. building in London since 2015.
This article was first published in London Free Press.