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Swave’s phase-change holography raises more money

Swave’s phase-change holography raises more money

Technology News |
By Peter Clarke



Holographic projection startup Swave Photonics NV (Leuven, Belgium) has raised an additional €3 million in seed funding, taking the amount raised by the company to €10 million.

Swave, founded in 2022, is a fabless spin-off from the IMEC research institute that is working to commercialize holographic chips based on diffractive photonics technology. The company’s business model is to be a component and subsystem provider.

The company has attracted US-based investors Acequia Capital (Seattle, Washington) and Luminate NY (Rochester, NY), an optics, photonics, and imaging accelerator. These investors have joined established Belgian investors imec.xpand, a venture capital fund centered around nanotechnology innovation, Flanders Future Techfund (FFTF) and QBIC, a Belgian inter-university venture capital fund.

Swave provides high density pixels. Source: Swave

The company’s technology is based on sub-wavelength pixels with the optical properties of phase-change material laid down over silicon. Swave uses a conventional alloy of germanium, antimony and tellurium (GST), the same type of material used in the fabrication of CDs and DVDs. GST can exist in two states – disordered or crystalline – with different reflectivity.

By making arrays with a pixel-pitch below the wavelength of visible light it is possible to program the visual field to produce an optical wavefront, as if from a real object.

“Holography is an end goal for AR, VR, XR; to provide 3D visualization that works with human vision,” said Mike Noonen, CEO of Swave. “IMEC looked at a lot of technologies, DLP, MEMS, microLED, but at best they were around a 2-micron pixel pitch.” Not only does GST get to 225nm pixel-pitch but, by manufacturing on 22nm planar CMOS, the technology can use the economics of silicon to ease entry to market at high yield, he added.

Theo Marescaux, chief product officer and founder at Swave, said the technology does not require waveguides, eye-tracking or varifocal lenses making for simpler systems for smart-glasses or goggles. Noonen said that other 3D technologies induce nausea and headaches by sending conflicting signals to the brain. Only holography provides natural focus and vergence.

Another benefit of the fine-pitch system is that it can support a wide field of view of more than 100 degrees at high resolution.

A wide field of view requires pixel pitch to be at around 200nm. Source: Swave.

The company has taped out a first prototype ‘HXR’ chip. This is the first dynamic holographic chip which Noonen said Swave expects to exhibit behind closed doors at the CES event in Las Vegas January 2024. This is a 256Mpixel RGB chip. A 4mm by 4mm die with 16k by 16k pixels. That is a pixel density of 16Mpixels per square millimeter. With 3x magnification this will provide a useful 12mm by 12mm ‘eye-box’. Applications will probably make use of a tri-diode laser for illumination although the technology does not need spatially coherent light, said Marescaux.

Noonen declined to say which foundries Swave is working with but said these include both R&D lines and volume manufacturing foundries.

Prove it

There are still aspects have the technology that have to be proved. For example, can the technology switch quickly enough to support video? Marescaux said: “The pixel switching is very fast at less than 300ns. That gives a few MHz pixel rate.”

And if the technology switches fast enough does it have the endurance to continue working over many years? Marescaux said the technology is benchmarked at 10^10 endurance which would provide that level of performance. Noonen made the point that the sub-wavelength visual application is forgiving of individual failed pixels.

Noonen said the seed funding would be used to accelerate engagement with customers and partners for glasses and googles with a view to product introduction in 2024. There are also potential free-space applications such as displays or a second-screen for a smartphone, where the non-volatile nature of GST could save power for some essentially less dynamic information.

Swave has 16 employees at present and funds would be used to bring more, hardware and software engineers on board, said Noonen. “But we also expect to leverage the resources of partners who will be telling us what they want. We will be looking to follow Texas Instruments’ DLP play book to achieve success,” said Noonen.

Related links and articles:

www.swave.io

News articles:

Noonen takes CEO post at holography startup Swave Photonics

IMEC spin-off to bring holograms to the metaverse

Photonic FPGA startup appoints former Xilinx exec as CEO

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