SiLC Technologies Inc. today announced that it has closed a $12 million seed round. The Monrovia, Calif.-based company said it plans to use the funding to accelerate development of its 4D+ Vision Chip platform.
Silicon photonics industry veterans founded SiLC in 2018, and the company said it has developed “a significant body of intellectual property, as well as a proprietary process for manufacturing high-performance optical components at scale.”
“Mehdi [Asghari, CEO of SiLC] has developed this technology over the past 20 years, but the company is new,” said Ralf Muenster, vice president of business development and marketing SiLC. “Our processor technology is qualified for automotive use, and we’re on the second generation of silicon.”
SiLC creates cost-effective FMCW chip
At CES in January, SiLC demonstrated its 4D integrated Vision Chip, which it said can detect objects as small as 3.8cm (1.5 in.) at a range of 190m (623.3 ft.). The company claimed that the sensor is the industry’s first fully integrated frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) silicon photonic platform.
That translates to an effective resolution of about 0.01 degrees vertically and horizontally, which could enable autonomous vehicles to perceive and avoid objects 200m (656 ft.) away at highway speeds, said SiLC.
The ability to integrate depth, light polarization, and reflectivity into 2D images a single, cost-effective chip is necessary for mission-critical lidar, Muenster told Robotics Business Review. “4D is helpful for velocity and object recognition,” he added. “Everything is integrated into the chip and a tunable laser.”
Time-of-flight sensors can be vulnerable to interference from sunlight and other lidars, and inexpensive 905nm lasers must have a limited range to protect human eyes, Muenster noted. “At 1550nm, there are fewer power and eye-safety limitations, and sun and weather conditions are less of of a problem,” he said.
Dell Technologies Capital led SiLC’s seed round. Decent Capital, ITIC Ventures, and several angel investors also participated in the funding round.
“Integrating all essential functions necessary to build an FMCW chip on a cost-effective silicon platform represents the holy grail of lidar,” stated Daniel Docter, managing director of Dell Technologies Capital. “After looking at more than 30 different lidar companies, we found SiLC to be the only company that has a viable approach for large-scale adoption of lidar in automotive and industrial robotics.”
“SiLC had an advantage in terms of its team, technology, and approach,” he said.
“SiLC enables a dramatic advancement to 4D imaging and associated lidar technology while enabling a much needed cost-volume scaling that follows the dynamics of the semiconductor industry,” said Liqing Zeng, chairman of Decent Capital and co-founder of Tencent Holdings Ltd. “We see incredible growth potential for SiLC, especially considering the experience and track record of the team.”
Growing the business
“This is my third startup and by far the most exciting, both at a technology level and the size of market it can address,” said Asghari. “We believe we have an opportunity to transform several industries. Our 4D+ Vision Chip technology will not only make lidar a commercial reality, but it will also enable applications ranging from robotics to AR/VR [augmented and virtual reality] to biometric scanning.”
“Our technology has a fundamental advantage [in that] this platform is optimized and developed from the ground up for analog-type applications, not just repurposed from data and imaging,” he said. “That’s why we could make such rapid progress and offer enhanced performance.”
“We have close to 30 people and a mature manufacturing ecosystem,” said Muenster. “We want to keep growing the staff, product development, and our capabilities, and we have a lineup of customers that are waiting for samples to come this year.”