MIT Media Lab

Exclusive: MIT's Joi Ito to join Oblong Industries board

March 17, 2014: 8:00 AM ET

"Minority Report" company welcomes its first outside director.

FORTUNE -- Oblong Industries, the privately held maker of conference room technologies, today will announce that Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, will become the first outsider to join its board of directors.

Oblong was co-founded by John Underkoffler, well known for his work designing the computer interfaces in the 2002 film Minority Report. Underkoffler remains a sought-after consultant to Hollywood films and actors. (Robert Downey Jr. told Fortune he turned to two technologists -- Underkoffler and Tesla (TLSA) and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk -- to help prepare for his role as Tony Stark.)

Much of Oblong's underlying technology has its roots at the MIT Media Lab, where Underkoffler worked in real-time computer graphics systems and large-scale visualization techniques.

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But Underkoffler, who also is Oblong's CEO, says Oblong wasn't seeking deeper ties to MIT when it selected Ito to sit on its board. "We'd have sought out Joi no matter where he might have been at the moment," Underkoffler tells Fortune. "It's that Joi brings his brilliant, uniquely 21st century style of connectivitst thinking."

Ito also brings bigtime board experience (he sits on the boards of Sony Corporation (SNE) and The New York Times Company (NYT)) and digital cred. He was an early-stage investor in Twitter (TWTR), Flickr, and Kickstarter, among others.

Ito says he is drawn to Oblong's integration of software and hardware, with a heavy emphasis on design and usability. Oblong's suite of technology includes high-end hardware that enables the sort of gesture-driven computing associated with Minority Report.

"I think Oblong is a great example of how you bring hardware, software, and design together and make it all work," Ito says, adding,"I'm shifting my focus away from software and Internet stuff and looking more at this world where hardware and design play an important role, with a deep understanding of software and software design, of course."

Underkoffler says the addition of an outsider to the board is significant, but he stresses that the Los Angeles-based company isn't likely to lose its entrepreneurial spirit any time soon. "Even though we've entered a mature product stage, the products are still based on a grand vision, and that vision is big enough to define another 15 to 20 years of product development."

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