An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Saleh Masoodian (co-founder and CEO) and Jiaju Ma (co-founder and CTO) of Gigajot Technology, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Gigajot Technology – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
“Gigajot Technology” was founded in January 2017 as a spinoff from Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire. Before that, we were developing the quanta image sensor (QIS) technology at the Advanced Image Sensor lab at Dartmouth College from 2012. We relocated Gigajot to Pasadena in early 2018. Gigajot is working to further R&D and commercialize the QIS technology and the QIS-based sensors and cameras for various imaging applications, from high-end to consumers.
By using QIS, we can capture the smallest particle of light, a.k.a. photon. To achieve that, we have to reduce the background electrical noise in every tiny pixel in a QIS device to an extreme level that is so low that even a photoelectric signal generated from a single photon can be detected accurately. Not only can our imager capture the photons in a very dim scene, but also resolve the number of photons and give you a much better image quality under extremely low lighting conditions. You can imagine when you have an imager sensitive to a single photon, it can provide excellent low light imaging performance and wider dynamic range. The current state of the art image sensors, called CMOS image sensors, suffer from low dynamic range and poor low light imaging performance, especially in video mode. QIS technology addresses the major weaknesses of the CMOS image sensors. Meanwhile, our sensors can be manufactured using the mainstream CMOS processes with high production yield at lower costs, hence the cost is comparable to the CMOS image sensors.
In the last two years, we have been awarded several grants and contracts from NASA, NSF, DOE, and several private parties to develop our imaging technologies in life sciences, medical, space, industrial and consumers applications, among others. For example, Gigajot is working with NASA on an SBIR contract to develop QIS technology for multiple space imaging applications, where an older imaging technology called electron multiplying charge coupled device (EMCCD) is widely used. Those EMCCD sensors have limitations on the sensor resolution, operation speed, sensitivity, and often need external cooling for dark noise reduction. Capable of operating at room temperature, QIS technology provides at least five times better low-light imaging performance than cooled EMCCD imagers, and more than 10 times more sensitivity than most CMOS image sensors used in today’s cameras.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
Building up Gigajot’s team has been the biggest hurdle. This is because we believe Gigajot’s greatest asset is our employees, so we take hiring very seriously. Over the last three years, we have been lucky to have acquired a great mix of staff who are very talented and dedicated.
What does the future hold for Gigajot Technology?
QIS is a platform imaging technology and can be used in almost all imaging applications. We aim to bring a variety of products to market using the QIS, which makes it possible to produce sharp images in extremely low light. We intend to target high-end life science and medical imaging markets at first, and down the road, there are additional markets we can serve, such as security, automotive, and other niche applications. We could eventually compete in much larger consumer markets where the CMOS image sensors are dominant.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Pasadena?
Pasadena is a great location for a startup tech business. It attracts excellent talents and many of our employees love living in this vibrant city or surrounding areas. We think when people hear “tech startup” they immediately think of Silicon Valley, but Pasadena has provided us with everything we have needed to hit the ground running.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I always advise young entrepreneurs to start their journey as soon as they can. You shouldn’t wait for the perfect moment. The perfect moment is right now. When we started Gigajot three years ago, Dr. Jiaju Ma and I didn’t know much about business and different aspects of it. We lived and learned. Also, it is important to seek out professionals to help guide your business in the right direction. We at Gigajot make sure we are working with the best advisers and consultants who understand the technology and business and are available when we need them.