Google deal marks final chapter of NXT story

Google deal marks final chapter of NXT story

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Founded way back in 1977 by Farad Azima as Mission Electronics, NXT developed highly innovative technology for drivers that turned any surface into a flat speaker. Instead of developing products, the business model was to license the patents and technology implementations to manufacturers, aiming to create a board market for the technology and creating another Dolby Labs.

The technology also had a role in haptics, providing feedback via a flat surface. By 2001 it had signed up DaimlerChrysler and General Motors for the SurfaceSound technology in concept cars that were set to reach the market in 2004.

The company saw a peak valuation of £1.6bn in the dotcom boom of 2000, backed by its 1200 patents and an army of 17,000 private shareholders, making it one of the highest profile UK and European tech companies. But it never really saw the expected profits from commercialising the IP in the consumer market and struggled with the costs of managing the IP portfolio. Moving its sales and marketing to Hong Kong to be closer to manufacturers didn’t make the difference it hoped. 

Struggling on from 2005, HiWave was formed from the combination of NXT and Bristol-based high efficiency audio amplifier startup Audium in December 2010. Unfortunately the company could not make headway with the flat speaker and went into liquidation in 2013. The audio division was sold off to FLAT Audio Technologies in the US state of Washington, creating a company called Tectonic Elements.

Redux Labs was spun off by the chief executive, James Lewis, and CTO of HiWave, Chris Travis, in May 2103 with the ‘Surface Sensation’ haptics and flat speaker technology. By 2015 it had built a 15-inch demonstrator and launched an Early Developer Support Programme for tactile feedback from speakers in tablets, all configurable under software control.  But as the tablet market faded and high end smartphones took over, competition grew and patents expired, the company could not get the engagements it needed.

The technology will now sit in Google. The value of the deal was not disclosed.  

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