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Brilliance backed with €2M for PIC-based AR laser engines

05 Dec 2023

Dutch startup secures investment from PhotonVentures and Oost NL; CTO due to discuss technology at SPIE AR/VR/MR event.

Brilliance, a Netherlands startup developing tiny laser modules for augmented reality (AR) displays, has secured €2 million in seed funding.

The Enschede-located firm says it has developed laser technology in a photonic integrated circuit (PIC) format offering superior levels of resolution and energy consumption compared with existing AR projection displays.

“The €2 million investment from Oost NL and PhotonVentures underscores the confidence in Brilliance’s innovative approach and enables the company to develop further,” announced the company.

Miniaturization key
CEO Tim Tiek says that the patented approach, which builds on years of PIC development at the nearby University of Twente and spin-outs including the foundry operations LioniX and PHIX Photonics, offers the right combination of optical performance, compactness, and scalability required for consumer electronics.

“Miniaturization is the key to success in the development of AR glasses, because for ultimate wearing comfort, the devices must be as small as possible and preferably barely visible,” he said.

“In addition, extremely clear images are necessary, especially for outdoor applications, while at the same time energy consumption must be kept to an absolute minimum. We are now able to overcome these dilemmas by producing the smallest and most efficient chip solution.”

According to the Brilliance web site, the module takes up an area measuring 7 mm by 4 mm, and is 1.5 mm thick.

CTO Douwe Geuzebroek, who was previously VP of sales and marketing at LioniX, added: “By using methods from the semiconductor and photonics industries, our module is also scalable into the volumes required for these markets.”

Recent developments have seen Brilliance demonstrate prototype chips fabricated using a new flip-chip approach, with the laser chip placed “upside down” against other photonic components.

“The features of Brilliance offer precise control over optical output properties, ensure compatibility with advanced eye-tracking systems, and guarantee durability through a hermetically sealed design with strategically placed electrical connections,” stated the firm, adding that several producers of AR devices are now testing the prototypes.

Customized prototypes
The next steps for the company include further development of the current generation of “proof-of-concept” laser engines into customized prototypes, alongside initial steps towards future mass production. The company is also hiring for several roles.

“With this investment we can scale up the silicon-nitride-based PIC technology to the industrial volumes needed for the AR market,” said Tiek. “We are therefore delighted that our new shareholders’ confidence makes this next step in our development possible.”

Originally emerging from the PhotonDelta funding mechanism in The Netherlands, investor PhotonVentures is a deep-tech venture fund focused on integrated photonics. It has already made investments in a dozen startups, including the LioniX and PHIX foundries, as well as the PIC-based spectrometer firm Mantispectra, communications-focused Effect Photonics, and lidar developer Scantinel Photonics.

Pieter Klinkert from PhotonVentures said of the group’s latest investment: “Our expertise within the integrated photonics sector allows us to recognize and foster the potential of innovations like Brilliance’s laser chip.”

Jordy Schaufeli, senior investment manager for technology at Oost NL,added: “AR and VR are increasingly going to play a role in our daily lives, [including applications] beyond the entertainment industry.

“We have great confidence in the team at Brilliance and think they have a unique product on their hands to enhance the AR and VR experience. We can play an important role as an investor in Photonics, which is a growth market for the east of the Netherlands.”

Geuzebroek is scheduled to present details of the firm’s PIC-based approach at the forthcoming SPIE AR/VR/MR conference, which runs alongside Photonics West in San Francisco early next year.

Entitled “Small and scalable laser source for AR glasses by hybrid integration of silicon nitride PIC technology”, the presentation abstract promises an explanation of the flip-chip assembly process and associated waveguide technology.

“Output powers of [more than] 1 mW are measured and depend on the laser diodes used,” it states. “The described assembly approach facilitates wafer-level laser diode integration and wafer-level hermetic packaging for scalable volume manufacturing.”

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