2021 Walter G. Fredrickson Distinguished Interdisciplinary Lecture Series: Larry Hornbeck

“Digital Micromirrors—a Singular, Game-Changing Technology
(Fearless Trailblazing & Big-Time Corporate Venturing)”
Thursday, March 25 at 1:00pm
Via Zoom Webinar
Register Now


Larry Hornbeck is the Academy Award-winning inventor of the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD), commercially known as Texas Instruments DLP chip. He was supported by corporate funding in the 1980s to essentially act in the role of an individual intrapreneur and was given unparalleled freedom and resources to develop high-density arrays of analog, cantilever micromirrors, initially for use in the exposure module of a digital printing system. Hornbeck tells the story of those early days and the tough decisions he made as he navigated in ambiguous waters.

Early on, he abandoned the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) manufacturing processes known at the time, and developed a simple planar, CMOS compatible process for the integration of analog micromirrors and transistors. In 1987, after repeated failures with his analog micromirror concepts, he made a complete break with the analog world. He invented an architecture for turning his micromirrors into precision, digital light switches, and the digital micromirror device or DMD was born!

In 1992, less than 5-years after his invention of the DMD, TI made a bold decision, created a corporate venture project (Digital Imaging) and began massive investments to commercialize the most complex multidisciplinary technology in the semiconductor world. In 1996 TI entered the projection display market, selling modules at first and later chipsets to its OEMS. TI steadily expanded the range of DLP applications, on the way losing hundreds of millions of dollars before becoming a profitable, near $1B business. By 2015 DLP Cinema technology had replaced film in most of the World’s theaters.

Hornbeck’s foundational patents provided an IP barrier to competition during those early stages of intense product development and revenue losses, so that today, twenty-four years after shipping the first products to its OEMs, TI remains the sole developer and manufacturer of DLP chipsets for an ever- growing number of display and non-display applications.

Here’s a sampling of fun things sprinkled into the talk:

  • You will learn why the Wall Street Journal declared that a 1977 Chevy pickup was the best think tank that TI ever had.
  • Why Hornbeck claimed that everything was invented in the 1890s.
  • See a request for more corporate funding, printed on Polaroid film and sent to “Father George.”
  • Learn why “Live or Die by Digital” was for real.
  • Hear about the “two-line, HDTV demo that changed the world of projection displays.
  • Learn the events that led up to the “Summer of Irrational Exuberance.”
  • Be there for the year that “Hidden Hinge” becomes “Forbidden Hinge.”
  • Don’t miss the product launch that almost failed when TI gets it only 1/2 right.
  • See how generous doses of serendipity, luck & timing work for those who are dedicated & persevere!


Larry Hornbeck is the Academy Award-winning inventor of the digital micromirror device (DMD), a high-speed, spatial light modulator (SLM) that modulates light with the precision of time division, a unique characteristic of this game-changing technology. Known commercially as the DLP® chip, the DMD is the basis for disruptive innovations by Texas Instruments across a wide range of display and non-display applications that include digital cinema, pico-projection, maskless lithography, 3D printing, automotive HUD systems and 3D machine vision.

Hornbeck, a PhD physicist, and graduate of Case Western Reserve University joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas in early 2017 following a distinguished career at Texas Instruments (1973-2016). At TI he developed CCD image sensors, uncooled IR detector arrays, and reflective spatial light modulators (SLMs), the later based on what is known today as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. Currently, Hornbeck is a professor in the Materials Science & Engineering Department of UT Dallas leading the Center for Digital MEMS, the first university research center to focus on Hornbeck’s pioneering technology.

Hornbeck is the single-named inventor of the foundational patents for the architecture, addressing, manufacturing and surface passivation of DMD technology including the seminal patent for his 1987 invention of the digital micromirror device, U.S. Patent 5,061,049, Spatial Light Modulator and Method. Altogether he holds thirty-eight U.S. patents in DMD (34), CCD (3) & IR (1) detector array technologies.

Hornbeck is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the following professional societies: Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE). For his pioneering work he has received more than thirty national & international awards & honors, including an Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette) from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 2015 “for the invention of digital micromirror technology as used in DLP Cinema projection.”

About the Series

The Walter G. Fredrickson Distinguished Interdisciplinary Lecture Series is named in honor of Walter Fredrickson (BSEE ’57), whose long and illustrious career in the world of electronics and engineering serves as the inspiration for the interdisciplinary lecture series. After he received his BSEE (with a specialization in electronics), Fredrickson entered active duty with the Air Force Security Service. Upon finishing his service, he completed some graduate work in computer circuits and logic at the University of Maryland, ultimately joining Radiation, Inc., a small electronics company in Melbourne, Florida. There he designed airborne and ground based telemetry data systems, which led to engineering management responsibility of complex computer-based data processing, display and communications systems for military and space applications.

In 1968, after acquisition of Radiation by Harris-Intertype, he was selected to lead the development of a new line of text editing and ad layout products for the newspaper industry, which became the precursor of modern word processing and publication products and software. Mr. Fredrickson served as Chairman of the Florida High Technology & Industry Council’s Applied Research Program, and received the Governor’s Award for leadership of this industry/academia program.

During the last decade of Mr. Fredrickson’s nearly 40 year career with Harris, he became the senior corporate executive responsible for assisting all Harris divisions to improve the success rate of their new product/program activities, through emphasis on the product-to-market process with associated metrics, and a climate for innovation among interdisciplinary hardware, software and marketing teams.