3M starts to show new digital signage hand with Pixel Qi investment

When news came along that Jeff Dowell – who had been running LG’s digital signage effort in the US – was going back to 3M and working on digital signage stuff there, people were naturally curious about how 3M was going to play in the space.

The company had been involved pretty heavily as a software provider, through acquisition, but had backed off that in recent years and looked a LOT more focused on its projection film.

So Dowell going back there, and saying he had a mandate to grow a business unit, was intriguing.

The first suggestion of what’s up may have dropped with word that 3M’s New Ventures arm has invested in Pixel Qi, which makes low-power LCD panels that are readable in direct sunlight.

The actual deal terms – like how much money traded hands – were not disclosed.

Says the release:

As consumers increasingly rely on connected, mobile devices in their daily lives, there is a growing, unmet requirement for display devices that offer portability, connectivity, long battery life and excellent indoor/outdoor readability in one device. Current displays are not able to solve all of these challenges simultaneously. Pixel Qi’s unique technology platform eliminates the need for trade-offs and enables high quality, outdoor or sunlight viewing with excellent battery life and portability in one device. The combination of its technologies with those of 3M will create excellent new opportunities for both companies.

“Pixel Qi’s full-function color screen technology, for the first time, gives consumers an outdoor-readable video display with exceptional battery life, usable anywhere, anytime. It’s a first in the industry. In our collaboration with 3M, we have the ability to accelerate this into mass adoption,” said Mary Lou Jepsen, co-founder and CEO of Taiwan-based Pixel Qi.

The funding led by 3M New Ventures will play a key role in enabling Pixel Qi to develop its product offerings into volume consumer markets as well as digital signage and touch applications. The investment, which successfully concludes Pixel Qi’s second investment round, will also allow Pixel Qi to build and to strengthen its engineering and sales capabilities.

Stefan Gabriel, president of 3M New Ventures said, “Pixel Qi’s technology enables displays of such lower power and high usability that the vision of ubiquitous displays comes much closer to realization. In combining Pixel Qi’s disruptive display technology with our technology platforms, we can create new business opportunities in the consumer and commercial markets for 3M.”

My guess is the phrase to pay attention there is “ubiquitous displays” as the combination of low energy consumption and sunlight readable likely has a market. Competing with the likes of the Korean and Japanese display giants on things like color reproduction and contrast would be a tough game. This is a different market and while you have to think the market is more in mobile handsets and tablets, there are lots of posters and small signs in places that fight ambient sunlight.

3M’s Optical Systems Division is a world leader in the specialized films used inside liquid crystal displays to optimize the light throughput. Pixel Qi’s innovative LCD designs use such film technologies, and other advances, to create novel displays and enable the best outdoor readable, power efficient displays available on the market.

“By addressing the energy consumption and sunlight readability challenges in one package, Pixel Qi provides a ground-breaking solution for the next generation of displays,” said Jim Bauman, vice president, 3M Optical Systems Division. “The combination of Pixel Qi’s low energy, reflective display technology with 3M’s innovative technologies will create exciting products for the mobile, handheld, tablet and other display markets.”