Interview with Rhodri Thomas, CEO of Spectral Edge
Could you tell us a bit about you, your professional background and how you became involved in mobile web?
I’m originally from a beautiful, small town called Llantrisant in South Wales. I studied for a BSc in Managerial and Administrative Studies at Aston University before starting my professional career, which has predominantly been in the mobile tech sector.
When I was in my final year at uni, the 3G hype was at its peak. The Government was selling spectrum licenses for huge sums of money and associated media coverage about what this would mean for mobile communications fascinated me. Even though I was part of the business school, I realised that I wanted to get into the technology space, and mobile specifically grabbed me as being “the future”.
I’ve spent almost five years working in the US. While at kgb I lived in New York for 18 months and I was the first member of the SwiftKey team to relocate to San Francisco Bay, where I lived for three years. I moved back to the UK in 2015 and joined Spectral Edge as CEO in January this year.
Could you tell us a bit about Spectral Edge?
We are a Cambridge start-up with expertise in developing image enhancement technologies that make any picture more vivid and beautiful in a natural way. We have close associations to the world-renowned Colour Lab at the University of East Anglia, whose IP has been embedded in over a billion devices.
Image processing is a hot topic right now, particularly in mobile because camera quality is a key differentiator for handset manufacturers. Our unique technology enhances image quality on all smartphones by dynamically adjusting colour contrasts, brightness, noise levels etc. without introducing artifacts and without needing any editing software.
Our technology is also used by Pay TV and OTT tv providers to deliver better viewing experiences to their audiences by filtering colours on TV content in real time. As an example, it can be used to deliver HDR-like experiences on standard TVs – which is great for sport or classic TV shows – without the consumer needing to upgrade their set top boxes. It also makes TV watching an enjoyable experience for colour blind people because it enables them to easily distinguish between different colours.
What technology innovations in image processing do you expect to see unfold over the next five years?
I expect to see Image Fusion become a key technology for smartphones. And in particular, I think and hope we’ll start to see multispectral imaging grow significantly – infra-red fusion, thermal imaging and the use of dark flash. Although these technologies have not yet gone mainstream, we are now seeing infra-red cameras embedded int smartphones for the first time, supporting iris scanning and face detection applications. We also see dual camera configurations – in a variety of different “flavours” – on both the front and the back of devices. With the investment made in these cameras, I think utilising this data to make better images through fusion is inevitable – which makes it an exciting time for Spectral Edge.
What makes Spectral Edge unique from the competition?
We have a unique technology set that is backed up by solid IP, meaning we can innovate in multi-spectral spatial processing in a way that no-one else can do. Our technology uniquely enables for real-time, embedded spatial processing of high quality images without any artifact introduction – what we do now will be the standard image fusion and image processing approach within 5-10 years.
You were a part of the SwiftKey management team that exited to Microsoft, what made you join a start up again?
For me, the most exciting stage in any new company is the “post-incubation” one, when you are figuring out how to take your exciting technologies to market. I joined SwiftKey as employee number ten, just as the team were “coming out of the lab” and it was the most fun part of my career-to-date. I am naturally proactive and energetic and I love trying to build a new value proposition that the market wants. The fun starts at the beginning, in my eyes!
How would you describe life in a start-up?
Challenging, energetic, nerve-racking, lots of uncertainty, but most of all a whole lot of fun. These are the times when you forge the best relationships with your team-mates and get the most satisfaction out of results. I have some close friends from start-ups over a decade ago and still have that same close bond with them – we “went to war” together!
Could you share a key lesson that you have learnt since joining Spectral Edge?
Not to underestimate the steep learning curve associated with different sectors of the same industry. While I’m still involved in mobile, the jump from NLP-based language processing to a mathematical, algorithmic image processing approach has been a challenging journey to say the least!
With regards to recruitment, do you find it tricky to retain or find talent?
It can be challenging trying to attract talent when you work for a start-up. You don’t have the brand awareness that a larger, successful company may have. However, when people join a start-up like Spectral Edge, they rarely go back to corporate life. What is good is that culturally, being an entrepreneur and part of the “next big thing” is more attractive to talent than in previous years. Traditionally, people were attracted to “The City” or Wall Street to make huge amounts of money. But culturally that is less appealing now. People want to make impact – and you make more impact at a small successful place than being a small cog in a huge wheel. I always encourage people to give start-ups and scale-ups a go, there’s nothing quite like it!
We at Spectral Edge are currently looking to double the size of our engineering team so we can commercialise and take our exciting range of image enhancement technologies to market as quickly as possible.
Is your workforce diverse? How do you encourage diversity in the workplace?
Having a diverse workforce is essential if a company is going to be successful. We are still very small but as we grow we will ensure a diversity in backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and viewpoints. For me, it is essential if you are to be successful.
I personally focus of “openness” rather than diversity per se. If you are open-minded, then diversity is a given. We want to work with smart people with ideas and opinions so the company gets the best possible outcomes. I don’t know any other way of working.
Learn more about Spectral Edge and their image enhancement technologies by watching this short video on Vividteq.
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