New dimension to 3D breakthrough
Donald Martin has been called a great many things during his 71 years; genius, entrepreneur, inventor, obsessive, irascible and, occasionally, even a Kiwi.
But after 30 years of doggedly pursuing a revolutionary three-dimensional visual technology, his dream may be on the cusp of reaping huge rewards.
The Mosman businessman and his team of scientists are ready to market the technology that could revolutionise not just television and feature films, but has applications for medical imaging, defence, computer screens and gaming.
The system hit the headlines in 1993 when Mr Martin showcased it in New York and IBM executives hailed it as a breakthrough for two reasons. It did not require glasses or headsets or wraparound devices on film or television screens. And, unlike other 3D systems, it did not cause eye strain.
The road since then has been anything but smooth. Arnott's in Australia was an early investor and since then more than 40 corporations, including some of the US's biggest media companies, have offered to buy the technology at prices that, during the dotcom boom, valued the business at A$1.2 billion.
Investment bankers and stockbrokers have since beaten a path to his door. But Mr Martin has either fallen out with prospective partners who have failed to live up to their promises, or shunned them altogether. The major sticking point is that he has never been willing to relinquish control.
''I've always been terrified that one of those companies with all their resources would pick up the technology, devote an enormous amount of money to it and then override our patents and leave us with nothing,'' he said.
So why the change now?
''I don't believe this technology can be taken any further in the foreseeable future, not unless materials that have have yet to be conceived become available,'' he said.
A behavioural scientist and engineer from Wellington, New Zealand, Mr Martin chanced upon the technology during a visit to Cambridge University almost 30 years ago, where researchers developed a crude system but lost a grant from the British Ministry of Defence.
In need of another sponsor, the university accepted A$10,000 from Mr Martin, which secured him the rights to its research. Since then he scraped together about $30 million from family, friends and investors.
During that time, his team has reduced the production costs and expanded the technology's capabilities, which uses a form of hologram compatible with broadcast signals.
''We've now perfected it so that it will cost nothing for consumers,'' he said. ''A conventional television set will be able to receive the images. The change is made to the signal format before transmission.''
Now suffering from Cushing's syndrome, a condition caused by medication to help heal a broken foot, Mr Martin recently lost three of his key colleagues to cancer, including collaborator and electrical engineer Bjorn Olsson.
Some things never change though. Despite all the work and the hardship, Mr Martin refuses to relinquish control and instead is seeking corporate partners to pursue the commercial phase of the technology.