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2 MIT grads built a second screen for your laptop

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People who work in finance, accounting, and technology value computers with large screens or multiple monitors. When they hit the road, those workers often must ditch the comfort and productivity of wide screens for the confines of tiny laptops.

An MIT startup, Mobile Pixels, believes it’s found a solution to the big frustration presented by small screens. The company has created DUO, a lightweight, portable external monitor that nearly doubles a laptop’s viewing surface. Since its launch in June, the company’s Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $616,000 and received orders for nearly 3,000 units.

“It’s really encouraging to see this level of enthusiasm,” said Jack Yao, Mobile Pixel’s co-founder. “Our goal was to raise $35,000, and we raised $110,000 in the 24 hours and $210,000 in the first week.” Yao and his co-founder, Shruti Banda, are 2018 graduates of the MIT System Design and Management program.

Here’s how DUO works. The user attaches the DUO to the back of a closed laptop using magnetic adhesives, then opens the laptop and slides out the DUO’s 12.5-inch screen. When open, the DUO sits beside the open laptop so there are two working monitors side by side. A USB connection links the laptop to the DUO and is also its power source. The DUO is compatible with any laptop. It weighs just 1.5 pounds, and has a 1080-pixel, high-resolution display. A hinge on the Duo lets it fold behind the laptop, allowing the screen to face a person opposite the user so it can be shared or used for conferences.

Yao said he got the idea for the DUO in 2016, while he was an intern at Amazon. At the time, Yao operated in a shared workspace on a laptop, and he was frustrated by the limitations of working on a small screen. He wanted to buy a screen he could attach to the back of his laptop, which he could then whip out whenever he needed to double the screen size. However, none existed.

“I couldn’t find one, so I made one,” Yao said. “Deep down, I figured, if I had this problem, I thought others have this problem.”

He was right. In Boston, Yao visited coffee houses and work-share spaces, where people he surveyed told him they’d eagerly buy an external monitor for their laptops if one were available. So, Yao and his partners at Mobile Pixels got to work. The company received $25,000 in financial backing from MIT Sandbox during the year and a half the company spent taking the DUO from prototype to finished product, Yao said.

The DUO sells for $220, although a limited number are on Kickstarter at a 17 percent discount.

While the DUO doesn’t boast breakthrough technology, the company has filed for two provisional patents. One patent is for the hinge-system that holds the DUO monitor in place when it swings behind the laptop, Yao said.

A second provisional patent has been filed for a touch-screen DUO, which Yao said Mobile Pixels hopes to debut in March. The touch-screen DUO also will be sold through a Kickstarter campaign, Yao said.

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