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Rockley Photonics closes 'several million dollar' first funding round

22 Apr 2014

Bookham founder Andrew Rickman attracts big bucks to develop silicon photonics-based comms system.

Rockley Photonics, an Oxford, UK-based start-up focused on developing advanced silicon photonics for next generation data communication networks, has just closed its “Series A” funding round following high levels of investor interest. The company was founded in mid-2013.

The funds secured – of the order of several million dollars, from a handful of different backers – will be used for a number of product development and growth initiatives, including the expansion of the company's engineering team in Pasadena, Ca, USA.

Rockey’s Chairman and CEO, Dr Andrew Rickman, previously founded Bookham Technology (latterly Oclaro) in the UK and more recently acted as Chairman of Kotura, a developer of advanced silicon photonics optical interconnect technology for high-speed networking applications. In August 2013, Mellanox Technologies, a developer of optical interconnect solutions, acquired Kotura for $82 million.

Around that time, Rickman and fellow former Kotura engineer Dr Aaron Zilkie, who is responsible for the laser business at Rockley, decided to pursue a different “exciting” optical communications market opportunity – once again based on silicon photonics, their area of expertise.

Rickman told optics.org, “We founded Rockley Photonics and we have also teamed up with a Europe-based developer and foundry partner, as yet unnamed, to optimize the new product for a different emerging market in the communications field.

“Silicon photonics technology has the potential to efficiently increase bandwidth capacity in data communication networks to enable faster and more efficient cloud services and internet applications. These benefits will help the internet continue to scale efficiently in both speed and power requirements in the face of rapidly growing data consumption demands.”

While Rockley Photonics’ main engineering facility is based in Pasadena, the company is incorporated in the UK with the US division operating as a100%-owned subsidiary. Current staffing is six people in Pasadena and four in the UK. Some of the other staff have come from the same corporate origins as Rickman and Zilkie.

'Micron-plus waveguides'

Rickman would not be drawn on the precise nature of the new silicon photonics-based development but he did provide optics.org with a general description: “Micron-plus waveguide related technology. It is an application that nobody else is addressing – a significant opportunity, we believe. It will be a system level “pizza box” (19in rack-mounted format) product.

“My background at Bookham and at Kotura lies in working in multi-micron waveguides. This approach is in direct contrast to the mainstream trend in silicon photonics, which is focused on sub-micron structures that are often compatible with the latest CMOS-type processes. We plan to start delivering beta-test samples from mid-2015 followed by general commercial release by the end of next year.

“We also have a number of other interesting collaborations in the academic area. Unlike with Bookham and Kotura, we don’t have our own fab. But we do have access to a good, highly-resourced foundry partner in Europe.”

He added, "Rockley Photonics has raised enough money for this year’s operations through to mid-2015. It has been a typical “A” funding round in the multi-millions of dollars. That will keep us going for at least 12 months and there will probably be a B-round next year.”

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

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