French industrial IoT startup TiHive has raised a total of €8.6m ($10m) to scale up production of its CMOS-based terahertz imaging sensor chip.
The backing comes as a grant and equity from the EIC Accelerator program, a European Innovation Council scheme within the framework of Horizon 2020.
“The really cool thing is the EC has funded academic organisation or SMEs via grants but now have seen they go beyond that, so €2.3m is a grant and €6.3m is in equity as a partners and we will be attracting other investors,” said Hani Sherry, CEO and co-founder of TiHive in Grenoble, France.
“They won’t be a majority shareholder, it’s like a Series A and will own a part of the company, so it is actually a pretty big round but we are phasing it,” he said. “This development is capital intensive so we need cash and Europe would like to boost strategic technologies in Europe and they have identified us as the leader in the technology. They would like to behave like VCs with a return on investment and the idea is to continue investing.” An ‘EU representative’ will sit on the board.
The chip is built in 65nm and the company says it has multiple foundry partnerships, including a partnership with ST. The terahertz sensor is combined with AI processing to simplify detection of contaminants and errors on a production line.
“We have tried multiple nodes, including 28FD-SOI, and we have mastered the different technologies. 65nm is a sweet spot for us, it has fantastic performance and a good cost at large scale and it has the libraries available,” said Sherry. “We operate from a few hundred GHz to 1THz and we have demonstrated chips at 2 and 3THz but for the applications we have found the unexplored applications range from 300 to 600GHz, that’s a major area.”
“We have succeeded in generating and detecting terahertz in CMOS and we do the processing. We have built camera systems, to a CMOS chip with optics, then AI embedded on the camera,” he said. Each camera has 1000 pixels with 12bit resolution operating at 1000 frame/s.
“This can democratise terahertz sensing in a similar fashion to smartphones with cameras that can be integrated almost anywhere and can be produced at large scale. In a couple of years we want to provide tens of thousands of cameras,” he said.
“We want to develop that one standard die camera with a standard API to develop applications of your choice. We will unlock one application that requires many cameras as the beachhead market. When that camera is standardised it will be a matter of software,” he said. “But we are not yet there. Today everything is on a single chip with off the shelf processing. When we detect THz, its a complex mechanism, and we need to process this before it goes to the processor at high speed. WeE have developed that chip with the camera and embedded systems.
The first application is in hygiene and personal care, measuring the dosage of absorbent polymer that goes into nappies/diapers. This is half the cost of the product, and overdosing costs the industry one to two billion euros a year on factory lines that produce 1200 items a minute. Hundreds of TiHive cameras can be added to existing lines to monitor the amount of polymer delivered.
“TiHive’s plug and play solution consists of integrated circuit-based technology and artificial intelligence algorithms. It includes a transmitter and receiver, which, when positioned either side of an object, reveal physical characteristics or quality indicators that have previously been impossible to measure,” said Clement Jany, CTO of TiHive.
“That will reduce costs by €2bn and reduce waste of the non-bio-degradable materials,” said Sherry. “With the same camera we are detecting other factors such as contaminants.”
TiHive estimates a €10 billion opportunity in potential material savings and quality improvements for manufacturers of personal care products. Sherry also points to 6G cellular communications operating in the 200 to 300GHz range as a key opportunity.
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