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Lumotive raises $13M for metamaterial beam-steering chips

04 Jan 2023

Seattle startup backed by Samsung Ventures says it is engaged with two-dozen major firms on autonomous applications.

Lumotive, the Seattle-based startup company developing beam-steering semiconductor chips based around optical metasurfaces, says it has raised $13 million in a new round of venture finance.

The support, provided by Samsung Ventures plus new investors USAA (United Services Automobile Association) and Korea-based electronics distributor Uniquest, brings total investment in the firm to $56 million, and is intended to accelerate the development and customer delivery of its devices for advanced lidar sensing.

Software-defined lidar
Lumotive, which in 2022 won a Prism Award in the category of autonomous vehicles and can also name Bill Gates among its early investors, says that it is currently engaged with “more than two dozen world-class companies” looking to utilize its patented light-control metasurface (LCM) chips.

The devices are being aimed at next-generation lidar systems for autonomy, automation, and augmented reality (AR) markets.

Suitable for software-defined lidar with no mechanical parts required to steer the beam and therefore zero mechanical inertia, Lumotive says that LCMs are able to steer light in any pattern across the entire field of view, within microseconds.

Manufactured in a major chip foundry using a silicon CMOS process and compatible with vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), the approach aims to take advantage of mass-produced photonic and electronic devices to reduce the cost and size of lidar sensors.

Lumotive claims that the design and assembly process closely resembles smart phone production, with an architecture that can be scaled from tiny close-range sensing to the kind of high-performance, extended-range operation required by autonomous vehicles.

At last year’s Vision trade show in Stuttgart, Germany, the company demonstrated a reference design platform combining its LCMs with time-of-flight CMOS image sensors from development partner Gpixel, adding that an updated version suitable for volume production should become available by mid-2023.

‘Disruptive potential’
Commenting on the latest injection of funding, Lumotive’s CEO Sam Heidari said: “Our LCM chips are uniquely positioned to address the broad range of perception and safety requirements across [multiple] sectors.

“This additional funding will accelerate the deployment of the current generation of LCM chips and the development of the next generation of our product.”

Mark Fitzgerald, the director of analyst firm Strategy Analytics’ autonomous vehicle service, added in a Lumotive release: “Strategic investments made by prominent industry leaders in promising semiconductor startups like Lumotive is great news for the mobility sensor sector.

“This funding round acknowledges the foresight of Lumotive's semiconductor-based product strategy and has the potential to give the company a measurable time-to-market advantage.”

Uniquest CEO Andrew Kim said that he thought Lumotive’s LCMs had the potential to disrupt both consumer and industrial applications of 3D sensing - and that Uniquest would promote the products in South Korea.

Michael Smith, assistant VP for corporate development at USAA - an insurance and finance firm focused on the US military community - commented:

“Lumotive's all-silicon LCM solutions make lidar affordable and deployable for a wide range of uses, and we're excited to help accelerate their product development and deployment efforts through this investment.”

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