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Luminus Devices looks beyond televisions and display applications

20 Mar 2008

The LED maker is widening its focus to include applications in general illumination, following the injection of $72 million from investors.

Luminus, a spin-off from the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has to date concentrated on the displays sector, where its microstructured "photonic lattice" LEDs have been designed into rear-projection televisions (RPTVs) and pocket projectors. The large-format LED chips made by Luminus are very powerful, meaning that only a handful of them are required to supply sufficient luminous intensity in a backlight whereas hundreds of conventional LED chips would be needed.

But while Luminus has secured Samsung as a major customer in the Korean electronics giant's RPTVs, the LED maker has been a victim of the runaway success of the rival flat-panel LCD technology. As a result, and despite the excellent picture quality that the Luminus technology provides, Samsung has sold far fewer of the RPTVs than had been predicted – one estimate suggests that only one million of an expected 20 million of these high-end TVs have been sold so far.

The latest financing highlights a significant strategic juncture, in that Luminus will now be targeting a much broader array of LED applications. "This investment marks a new phase in the growth of our company, and it will provide us with the resources to expand our product line, serve new markets and deliver the full value of our technology to our growing roster of customers," commented CEO Udi Meirav.

Luminus has been developing phosphor-converted white LEDs based on the photonic lattices, something that was not suitable for the TV backlight applications. Alexei Erchak, Luminus CTO and a co-founder of the company, said recently that the company would be exploring what he describes as "lumen-demanding" applications where conventional LED arrays could be replaced by his high-intensity devices. These include architectural lighting, medical lighting applications, illumination in the retail sector and more.

Luminus has also developed technology for LCD backlights, but displacing the cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) in flat-panel TVs has proved difficult for all of the LED manufacturers because of the high additional cost of the technology. Nevertheless, Luminus should feature in a 52-inch LCD TV set to go into production later this year, and its 4 mm2 emitters are also being used in pocket projectors. The emerging field of "pico" projectors – even smaller, hand-held devices that are the size of a cell phone – could also be ripe for Luminus.

While the additional $72 million will provide a huge boost for the company, enabling it to accelerate new product development, it does mean that the investors will have to seek a very lucrative exit strategy in the future. The latest venture round was led by Boston's Braemar Energy Ventures, and included major contributions from CMEA Ventures and the Paladin Captial Group. All are focused on energy-efficient technologies.

Those financiers might be looking for inspiration from Luminus' Massachusetts neighbour Color Kinetics, the solid-state lighting firm that was last year acquired by Philips in a deal valued at some $800 million.

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