The world might know Akon as a musician, and rightfully so. The multi-platinum recording artist moved dancefloors with a bevy of nightclub bangers at the turn of the millennium. But shortly after such hits as “Right Now” and “Smack That,” he shifted his focus to solar energy and providing electricity to millions of homes in Africa with his Akon Lighting Africa initiative.
In between the music and benevolent work, the global R&B music icon also showed a sense for the business side of the artistic world by joining budding tech company Royole as its chief creative officer to bring some serious swag in the tech space.
Royole, who touts itself as a “global pioneer and innovator of flexible displays, flexible sensors, and smart device technologies” and has a reported valuation of $3 billion, used the relationship with their newly minted CCO to introduce the special-edition Akon Moon, a 3D virtual mobile theater for movies, gaming and more.
“What made me so excited about Royole was that a lot of the things I wanted to get into, they were already doing it, and on a whole other level,” Akon told [a]listdaily. “The way the team thought about tomorrow is what attracted me the most. I was really cautious with which kind of companies to partner up with my interests in consumer electronics, and wanting to create my own virtual reality headphones. I didn’t want to do basic headphones like every other artist.”
Royole Moon combines two full HD 1080p AMOLED displays at over 3,000 PPI resolution that simulates an 800-inch curved screen with stereoscopic 3D, and unlike most VR devices on the market today, it doesn’t require specifically taped content for compatibility.
“It’s like sitting in an IMAX movie theater,” Royole founder and CEO Dr. Bill Liu told [a]listdaily. “We have a very high resolution display integrated in the device, complemented by a foldable design to incorporate the noise-cancelling headphones. It’s a perfect entertainment portal for consumers who like movies and music. We’re proud to have Akon as our chief creative officer. He’s very talented and has a lot of ideas that help us.”
Liu says Akon will serve as a bridge between science and art for his company’s engineering team and tech-savvy consumers by being involved with product design and creative direction for their line of products, specifically with ideation on the music side.
“Our products are geared toward global markets,” Dr. Liu says. “VR has been hot for the last few years. People have been talking about how everything is going to be virtual reality. I see it a bit differently, though. VR has a great future, and great potential, but it takes time. Especially on the hardware side. That’s why we designed the Moon differently. It’s not a traditional VR device. We focus on movie and high resolution video applications without motion sensors. That way, we can actually use the computation consumption to make sure the display resolutions are super high, and people can get great experiences with their movies.”
At CES earlier this month, Akon and Dr. Liu were front and center in Sin City to showcase their stable of products in both a press conference and a cavernous booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
That notion alone may have first been considered farfetched because Liu and Akon originally met in a hotel lobby at 4 a.m. in a chance encounter. Now, they’re both working in unison to change how sound is applied to new products technologies.
Royole, founded in 2012 by Stanford engineering graduates, capped off what they say was a successful show by winning CES 2017 Innovation Awards for their FlexPhone and Smart Cycling Backpack.
“We believe the future of information displays and consumer electronics will be mainly about human-machine interfaces, artificial intelligence and IoT,” Dr. Liu says. “You can see a lot of companies working on the AI and IoT side. We’re more focused on human-machine interface technologies with flexible displays and sensors and VR. But the industry is growing rapidly in these three categories.”
The Fremont, California-based verified “unicorn” company is growing, too, as evidenced by their expansion into a new $1.7 billion production campus in Shenzhen, China. The facility—Royole’s second in the country—will be used to mass produce their line of products. They are expecting the 1.1 million square foot project to be completed and fully operational during Q3.
Earlier last year, Royole announced their valuation grew to $3 billion after receiving $80 million in series Pre-D funding. They were also named “5 under 5” most innovative and fastest growing startup company by Scientific American.
Royole has over 700 employees from 12 different countries, but Akon is by far their most famous.
“What Royole has with flexible displays and flexible sensors, and what we’ve created with the Moon, this is a long-term relationship that we are building,” Akon says. “It’s the perfect plan to how we want to move forward. We want to have all the patents. . . . We’re coming with new innovative ideas and creations before people can wrap their minds around it. That’s what we’re dealing with now. Some of the stuff we’re doing won’t be profitable for another five or six years because it’s just too ahead of its time. We’ll have to descale that so it can engulf in the minds of the everyday person. The biggest challenge we are going to face is moving forward too fast.”
Although spearheading a burgeoning business in Royole and a creative product with Moon, Dr. Liu remains cautious by not forecasting a future with out-of-this-world predictions.
“There’s still a lot of work to do this year for all of the VR companies,” he says. “It’s still going to be hot. It just takes time.”