QD Vision Glowing From In-Q-Tel Investment

At QD Vision in Watertown, MA, engineers are building on nanoscale “quantum dot” technology pioneered at MIT to create a new generation of light-emitting devices (LEDs) that could eventually be used in video displays with brighter colors, blacker blacks, and far higher energy efficiency. And gradually the company has been showing up on the radar screens of outside supporters and investors— including In-Q-Tel, the venture wing of the U.S. intelligence community, which announced a strategic investment in QD Vision yesterday.

The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed, but QD Vision says that it brings the total government funding it’s won in the last year to $5 million. The company also has funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Advanced Technology Program and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

QD Vision doesn’t yet have a commercial product, but if its development efforts are successful, it could find itself at the center of a revolution in display technology. Current liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are illuminated by electricity-thirsty fluorescent backlights and produce muddy, impure shades of red, green, and blue. By contrast, QD Vision’s “quantum dots”—tiny semiconductor crystals only a few nanometers in diameter—produce highly pure colors when stimulated by electrons, and require much less electricity in order to glow brightly.

The four-year-old company’s main backers to date have been Highland Capital Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, which provided initial venture support, as well as a $7 million Series B round last year. Accompanying the strategic investment by In-Q-Tel was a “technology advancement agreement,” which amounts to a longer-term promise that the organization will help QD Vision get its technology off the ground and adapt it for the specific needs of users in the intelligence community.

Exactly what those needs might be, no one is saying. But it’s not hard to imagine how brighter, crisper, less energy-hogging LED-based displays might be useful in IT-driven intelligence-gathering and command-and-control applications. “The fact that they excel on color purity and brightness combined with efficiency is what’s rare” about QD Vision, says Donald Tighte, In-Q-Tel’s vice president of external affairs. “A lot of solutions in the display marketplace hit two of those three—for example, you can get greater brightness in your laptop screen but you pay a premium in terms of the power drain on your battery. But [this technology] combines excellence in visibility, purity, brightness, and energy efficiency. It’s one of the things that has us excited about the company’s commercial applications and also, we hope, it’s applications within the intelligence community.”

The QD vision deal is only In-Q-Tel’s second investment in the Boston area since the organization set up a local office in Waltham, late last year. The first was in Cambridge, MA-based CoreStreet, which is developing smart-card-based access systems for secure buildings. But even before it had a local office, In-Q-Tel was an active investor in Boston-area technology firms with intelligence-related technologies, including Basis Technology, BBN Technologies, Ember, Endeca, Metacarta, Polychromix, Sionex, Spotfire, Streambase, and Traction Software.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “QD Vision Glowing From In-Q-Tel Investment”

  1. michael cass says:

    “even cutting-edge organic LED, or OLEDs, are illuminated by electricity-thirsty fluorescent backlights and produce muddy, impure shades of red, green, and blue” – no actually they are not – part of the point of OLEDs is that the material itself is fluorescent so it doesn’t require a back light, using much less power and gives high contrast colours.

  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @michael: thanks for the correction. I’ve taken out that misleading phrase about OLEDs, which, you’re right, are much more power-efficient. (Though I have heard that the quantum-dot approach still beats out OLEDs on color purity).

  3. Danny says:

    I think you should read this article.

    Quantum-dot LEDs have theoretical performance limits that meet or exceed all other display technologies. Today, phosphorescent OLEDs have the best demonstrated efficiency of any nonreflective display technology, but QD-LEDs have the potential to exceed OLED luminous efficiency by more than 20%, reducing power consumption significantly.