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Indie Semiconductor grows automotive offering with Exalos buyout

20 Sep 2023

Swiss firm sells a range of superluminescent LEDs and semiconductor optical amplifiers made using proprietary processes.

Automotive technology firm Indie Semiconductor says it has acquired Exalos, the Swiss designer of superluminescent LEDs (SLEDs) and semiconductor optical amplifiers (SOAs).

California-based Indie says that the deal, which could end up costing $65 million, will give it access to some proprietary photonics technology well suited to applications including head-up displays (HUDs) and lidar sensors.

In particular, adds Indie, Exalos’ field-proven devices complement its own laser and silicon photonics products.

The firm has paid an initial $45 million - in the form of 6.6 million Indie shares - to complete the acquisition, with up to a further $20 million payable in either cash or more shares, depending on sales performance over the next two years.

Like Indie, Exalos has pursued a fabless business model, outsourcing manufacturing to commercial foundries so that it can concentrate on epitaxial wafer design.

That approach has resulted in the firm’s development of low-speckle SLEDs emitting in the red, green, and blue that are well suited to applications in HUDs and extended reality headsets.

FMCW lidar boost
Donald McClymont, Indie’s co-founder and CEO, said in a release announcing the agreement that Exalos’ suite of photonic components would immediately expand Indie’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and “user experience” product offering to top-tier vehicle makers.

“Specifically, Indie can now leverage Exalos’ core SLED and SOA technologies to enable HUD, high-brightness visible lighting and inertial measurement unit (IMU)-based navigational applications.”

McClymont also pointed out that the technology would enable Indie to extend its portfolio of frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) lidar sensors, a chip-scale version of lidar technology that is able to determine both the position and velocity of other road users.

“We are gaining a well-established team of 17 world class engineers, including the industry’s leading expertise in bright light sources based on a proprietary gallium nitride process,” he said.

Founded 20 years ago in Zurich, Exalos says it has since shipped more than 700,000 SLEDs, for applications across medical and industrial imaging, navigation, optical sensing, metrology, and scientific research.

As well as SLEDs and SOAs, the company has expertise in “swept source” external-cavity tunable lasers, which have been used in the development of ultra-compact optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanners.

Exalos’ CEO and co-founder Christian Velez commented: “Given Indie’s global sales channels and demonstrated scalability, I am confident that together we can take our business to the next level, capitalizing on clear product synergies between us and extending our customer reach while preserving the Exalos innovation engine.”

Steep sales growth
For Indie, the Exalos deal should complement its 2021 acquisition of Canadian photonics startup TeraXion, whose developments included a high-linearity distributed feedback (DFB) laser diode specifically aimed at FMCW lidar applications.

That deal was made possible by Indie’s $350 million listing on the Nasdaq via a special-purpose acquisitions company (SPAC) arrangement completed in June 2021.

As well as TeraXion and Exalos, the firm has since acquired Analog Devices’ Symeo Radar division, video processor company GEO Semiconductor, and Germany’s Silicon Radar. It has also signed a strategic partnership with FMCW lidar specialist SiLC Technologies.

Last month Indie reported that its quarterly sales had more than doubled year-on-year, to $52 million, although that was accompanied by an operating loss of nearly $41 million.

Namechecking the likes of Bosch and Toyota as users of its technology, CEO McClymont told investors:

“Our steep growth trajectory reflects design win momentum across ADAS, user experience and electric vehicle applications. Indie is increasingly well positioned to capitalize on these triple megatrends and the resulting $48 billion autotech market opportunity.”

© 2024 SPIE Europe
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