Phlux Technology, a LIDAR sensor technology startup spun off from Sheffield University's research, today raised £4 million in seed funds led by London VC Octupus Ventures.
Phlux's concept aims to pioneer the use of a semi-metal element called Antimony to underpin LIDAR sensing high-performance infrared modules, providing an alternative to silicon.
The spinout claims its architecture is 10% more sensitive in LIDAR sensors and has 50% more range, "compared to equivalent sensors."
LIDAR manufacturers would also benefit from reduced production costs, easing the path to market adoption, Phlux Technology claims.
Novel materials with commercialisation timeframes that align with the road to level 3 or 4 autonomous driving can be expected to go down well with VC investors.
And reducing LIDAR overheads will be critical to driving the adoption of self-driving vehicles, enabling meticulous road awareness for more use cases.
The seed round was backed by Foresight Williams Technology Funds, a joint venture between Foresight Group and Williams Advanced Engineering.
Amy Nommeots-Nomm, deep tech investor at Octopus Ventures, said: "We are delighted to be leading this investment round for Phlux Technology, as this innovative breakthrough is critical to the future direction of transport, communication and emission monitoring systems.
“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.”
The duo benefited from the university's formidable semiconductor ecosystem, including the UK's national epitaxy facility (chip foundries use epitaxy to grow crystals on top of crystalline bases at a specific orientation, enabling complex semiconductor architectures.)
In their collaborative research, Shien Ng and Chee Hing were in agreement that infra red sensors had reached a performance plateau. And after a decade of materials investigations, they settled on the Antimony material as the contender most likely to shake up LIDAR sensor tech.
Antimony's development is set to open access to the 1550 nanometre infrared zone, the founders say, paving the way for better sensitivity and performance as it operates in "eye safe" zones of electromagnetic fields.
Phlux also claims more than 1,000 times more photons can be launched with Antimony LIDAR sensors, sending out laser sensing rays that extend far further than silicon, and with "greater pixel density.
Ben White, Phlux Technology's founding CEO, said: "Our ambition is to become the Nvidia of the infrared sensor market, starting off with delivering the world's first LIDAR receiver chip using Antimony.
"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."