UK startup looks to automotive LiDAR

UK startup looks to automotive LiDAR

Interviews |
By Nick Flaherty

UK startup Phlux is aiming for the automotive LiDaR market with a new type of sensor as it looks to raise funds.

The Aura 1550 nm avalanche photo diodes (APDs) developed by Phlux were launched in January 2024 and are 12X more sensitive than other best-in-class InGaAs APDs. This means that the operating range of IR-based systems can be immediately extended by up to 50% as well as offering accuracy and environmental stability as a drop in replacement.

“For us its about scaling. We are selling into low volume, high value applications and we plan to scale for the automotive markets to millions of units,” said Ben White, CEO of Phlux.

“We’ve got all the foundations in place with semiconductor supply chains and a number of foundries for the III-V IR sensor, and most of it is in Europe and the US. The packaging depends on the applications.”

“We believe 1550nm time of flight (ToF) is looking like it will win out for longer range lidar which is where we have the sensitivity advantage with APD for ADAS Level 3 applications rather than L4 or L5 autonomous driving (AD).

In new designs, this reduces the power of the laser diode that produces IR pulses and simplify both the system optics and thermal management arrangements. This cuts product size and cost.

The performance of Noiseless InGaAs APDs is boosted by the addition of antimony alloy in the compound semiconductor fabrication process. This not only increases the sensitivity of the diodes but greatly improves their thermal stability, making them more environmentally robust.

“Where we are seeing the volume shipments is in the traditional rotating mirror but there is the movement to raster scan 2D focal plane array,” he said.  

“There is a real interest in flash lidar but it’s a long way from mass deployment. Flash is an option in the future but requires a sensor array plus and ASIC for control . That’s on the roadmap but for the next few years we want to scale the single point technology for raster scan which will be the de facto technology which will drive down the price and in the background people will be pumping money into R&D on flash.”

The company plans to have AECQ 101 certification next year and is working on ISO9001 certification for process stability to show the variance from lot to lot. This requires statistical analysis on the material through the supply chain, he says.

“Its selecting the right partners who have already been qualified and as a startup you are always pitching to customers, to suppliers. There a lot of interest out there in lidar and everyone understands its got huge,” he said.

In the meantime the company has won a six-figure (GBP) value export contract and is now shipping production quantities of its 1550 nm InGaAs avalanche photodiode sensors.

“Unlike most semiconductor companies, we didn’t need to win new design slots before generating sales,” he said. “Our Noiseless InGaAs APDs are drop-in replacements for traditional IR photodetectors. They’re ideal for making instant performance upgrades to laser rangefinders, LiDAR, and optical test equipment, so we’re seeing immediate demand, particularly across North America and Europe. It’s a huge vote of confidence in our technology and there will be more product announcements as we build on this success over the next few months. Just over a year after closing an initial £4 million seed funding round, we’ve now delivered products to fifteen customers.”

It is now working on its Series A funding round.

“We hope to get a series A away early next and it makes sense to look at Europe as this will be in the €5m to €10m range. The key thing is we expect to be generating significant revenues by that point,” said White.

“Securing a significant contract so quickly after their seed round is great validation of Phlux’s technology, vision and execution. Phlux are proving they can deliver their incredible innovation to customers and are on an exciting trajectory to shape the future direction of LIDAR, communications and sensing. We are excited to see them continue to deliver on their roadmap, bringing products to market, and building further strategic partnerships,” said Dr. Amy Nommeots-Nomm, Early-Stage Investor at Octopus Ventures.


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