19 Dec 2023
Strategic partnership seeks to establish a supply chain for GaN-based micro-LED displays.
Porotech, the Cambridge University spin-out working on micro-LED displays exploiting porous gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors, has signed a strategic partnership with contract manufacturing giant Foxconn.
Also known as Hon Hai Technology Group - and for its extensive collaboration with Apple, for which it makes iPhones - Foxconn produces vast numbers of consumer electronics and communications devices.
The agreement with Porotech is intended to expedite the commercialization of micro-LED displays for augmented reality (AR) applications, and will aim to establish the world’s first “complete end-to-end, viable supply chain” for applications in wearable and smart devices.
While displays based on micro-LEDs would have a number of advantages, for example very high performance and the possibility of bezel-free designs, commercial applications thus far have been limited to extremely large TVs priced for the luxury goods market.
Applications in other products have been held up by the high cost of micro-LED display fabrication with different semiconductor material systems, although the analyst firm Yole Intelligence has suggested previously that it was the only display technology with the right combination of cost, brightness, efficiency, and size to succeed in AR devices.
Foxconn admitted in its announcement of the Porotech deal: “The micro-LED device for AR applications has great potential, but at the same time is quite challenging. It involves multiple disciplines including semiconductor wafer manufacturing, hybrid bonding, IC design, optoelectronics, quantum physics, and optics.
“Integration across these different fields is difficult and progress has been slow. In the past, no single company possesses such a big portfolio of expertise.
“With this partnership, we expect to expedite the research and productization of micro-LED technology and push the AR application to a new era. Foxconn's strength in supply chain management is also expected to contribute at the mass production stage.”
Porotech corporate video showing DynamicPixelTuning
According to Yole, part of the difficulty with micro-LED commercialization is that it has proved particularly difficult to produce red, green, and blue emitters on the same LED epiwafer and at the required tiny LED die size measuring just a few microns.
This is where Porotech’s technology could be critical. While GaN-based materials have long been used to fabricate blue and ultraviolet emitters, the porous form can be engineered on silicon to emit at a much wider range of wavelengths including red and green - meaning that a single material system can be used to produce full-color microdisplays.
Back in February 2022, the startup raised $20 million in a series A round of venture funding, with its CEO and co-founder Tongtong Zhu saying at the time that the support would help accelerate its development of “PoroGaN” products for deployment in AR/VR glasses.
Following the latest development, he said: “Our collaboration with Foxconn signifies a momentous step forward for micro-LED microdisplays and AR. This strategic partnership speaks volumes about our shared dedication to innovation and excellence.”
Bob Chen, the general manager of of Foxconn’s semiconductor business group, added: “Our strategic alliance with Porotech will accelerate development of micro-LED microdisplays.
“It is one step closer to tapping into the tremendous opportunities that AR can bring to the world. We are excited to collaborate with Porotech to integrate many technologies from different fields.”
• Porotech’s “DynamicPixelTuning” technology for microdisplays will be the subject of a presentation at SPIE’s forthcoming AR/VR/MR conference in San Francisco, while the company has also been shortlisted for a Photonics Prism Award, in the AR/VR/MR category.