UK startup Phlux Technology has raised £4m (€4.6m) to develop mass market laser sensors based on antimony rather than silicon.
This opens up the 1550nm frequency band for sensors that are ten time more sensitive than silicon sensors with 50% more range to cut the cost of LiDAR sensor systems.
The company was founded by Ben White, CEO, Professor Jo Shien Ng and Professor Chee Hing Tan, who met at Sheffield University where they researched novel semiconductor materials and devices for infrared detection.
“Our ambition is to become the Nvidia of the sensor market, starting off with delivering the world’s first LiDAR sensor chip using antimony,” said White.
“Industry will never achieve full autonomy with LiDAR if it relies on silicon-based sensors, so our approach will reshape the sensor market for robotics and self-driving machines. We are delighted to be spinning Phlux out of Sheffield University at a time when it has ambitious plans to become a global centre of excellence for semiconductor research and the UK is looking to demonstrate its capabilities as a global science superpower,” he said.
This comes as the laser sensor market is consolidating with the merger of Velodyne and Ouster to cut costs for driver safety systems, self-driving cars and autonomous robots.
- Ouster, Velodyne merge to cut LiDAR costs
- Lumotive drives competitiveness of LiDAR sensors
- Second generation LiDAR sensor integrates processing
- Metasurface LiDAR reference design targets industrial designs
“Today, there is market consolidation among the silicon-based sensor companies, precisely because they can’t solve the problem that Phlux has cracked, making its potential hugely exciting,” said Amy Nommeots-Nomm, Deep Tech Investor at Octopus Ventures, the lead investor.
Other investors include Northern Gritstone, the Foresight Williams Technology Funds and the Innovation Fund, as well as receiving funding from Innovate UK.
The first stage of commercialisation is a single element sensor with world leading sensitivity that is retrofittable into today’s LIDAR systems and will be part of the Phyllo series product line. Longer term, Phlux is building an integrated subsystem and array modules forming a high-performance sensor toolkit and over the next year, it will grow its engineering team in areas such as fabrication, mixed signal circuit design, optics and testing.
“Increasing sensor performance whilst driving down cost are key enablers for accelerating the uptake of higher levels of driving automation and with this seed funding, we look forward to seeing Phlux’s sensor technology transition to full commercialisation,” said Matthew Burke, Head of Technology Ventures at Williams Advanced Engineering.
Phlux is based in one of the world’s leading centres for III-V semiconductor research, with world class research and facilities at Sheffield University, and The National Epitaxy Facility, which was awarded £12 million in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
“Phlux Technology is a fantastic example of the exciting new generation of science and technology businesses in the North of England turning research into reality,” Duncan Johnson, CEO, Northern Gritstone. “The company’s innovative approach demonstrates how world beating technology, with the potential to change entire industries, is emerging from the Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester triangle. Northern Gritstone exists to support and supercharge businesses like Phlux.”
The infrared sensors have applications beyond LIDAR in satellite communications and enabling internet in remote regions, fibre telecoms, autonomous vehicles, gas sensing and quantum communications. Phlux was recently awarded an Innovate UK project with quantum sensor startup QLM developing sensors for a LiDAR based camera monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are excited to be working with Phlux to develop sensors for our single-photon LIDAR for the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Murray Reed, Chief Executive officer, QLM. “Climate control requires very large-scale deployment of monitoring solutions, which demands low cost technology and complete supply chain control of critical components such as sensors. Phlux’s technology is particularly exciting as it offers a higher performing alternative to the current approach and opens up a new UK supplier with significant potential for us.”