After just a year at MIT, Alex Hornstein ‘03 knew exactly what he wanted to do: Be an inventor. “The best way to do that,” he says, “is to invent stuff all the time. There’s not a good credential for inventors, you just should practice it.”
And that, essentially, is what Hornstein has done the last dozen years or so. As an electrical engineering/computer science undergrad, he was part of an MIT student-run space with talented creators and builders all “obsessively making things.” After graduating he spent a year at Idealab in California, then returned to Boston to start his own version of the technology incubator, “which promptly failed.” He spent four years in Hong Kong, a hotbed of tech design and invention. There he befriended Shawn Frayne, a fellow MIT alumnus, and the two began working on low-cost solar panels to bring electricity to the rural Philippines.
Three years ago, Hornstein (son of Science Dean Amy Sheck) and Frayne began working on a technique for printing holograms. “Shawn had been obsessed with holograms since he was a kid, and I used to doodle in French class [at NCSSM], drawing 3-D displays in between conjugating verbs,” says Hornstein.
After two years and one iteration, they knew they were onto something — a volumetric display that adds motion to 3-D and can be manipulated. “Volumetric is our nerd term for it,” Hornstein explains. “Generally, it’s like the hologram displays you see in science fiction.” To support themselves, their three Looking Glass Factory labs — in Providence, RI; Brooklyn, NY; and Hong Kong — and employees, they started selling the display “kits” to hobbyists. They’ve sold more than 2,000 units. Their product, Volume, is now in its second iteration.