11 Nov 2016
Microdisplay and semiconductor firms working together on miniature laser scanners, targeting 2018 production of lidar sensing 'engines'.
MicroVision, the US-based developer of laser projection microdisplays, has signed a deal with semiconductor giant STMicroelectronics that will see the two companies collaborate on MEMS-based laser scanners for a variety of applications – including the hot topic of lidar sensors for autonomous vehicles.
The “co-marketing” agreement is also said to cover technology development, and seeks to build on an existing arrangement that is focused on so-called “pico-projector” and heads-up display (HUD) applications.
“ST and MicroVision anticipate targeting emerging markets and applications including virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR), 3D sensing and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS),” announced the Seattle firm.
In addition to that, MicroVision and ST are “exploring options” to collaborate on future technology development including a joint laser product roadmap. “This cooperation would combine the process design and manufacturing expertise of ST with the laser beam scanning systems and solutions expertise of MicroVision,” they reported.
The companies already have an existing working relationship, under which ST manufactures MicroVision’s current generation of MEMS die and ASICs.
The market for miniature laser projectors integrated with smart-phones and other hand-held devices previously envisaged is yet to materialize at any kind of scale, although MicroVision has enjoyed some success with HUDs.
However, as evidenced by the company’s latest financial results – issued November 2 – MicroVision has continued to stack up significant losses. In the latest quarter, ending September 30, revenues of $4 million were eclipsed by operating costs, with the firm posting a net loss of $4.1 million as a result.
And although sales in the nine months of the year so far have risen sharply to $11.9 million, MicroVision’s losses have also swelled, to $11.1 million. The company’s latest balance sheet listed only $5.8 million in available cash and other liquid assets, suggesting that unless profitability is reached in the next few months another round of fundraising or dramatic cost-cutting measures would be needed.
However, long-time MicroVision CEO Alexander Tokman remains positive, saying in relation to the extended ST deal:
“Combining ST’s expertise in the development and manufacture of key components for laser beam scanning (LBS) engines with MicroVision’s proprietary system, engine, and applications knowledge, and intellectual property can be highly advantageous for marketing LBS solutions to a wide array of companies for numerous applications.”
MicroVision plans to begin offering those scanning “engines” next year, and is hopeful that the resulting sales will add “significant revenue” to its existing turnover.
The company is targeting three specific application areas, namely high-definition displays with stringent form factor and flexibility requirements, an interactive touch and 3D sensing technology, and lidar units for robotics, driver assistance, and future autonomous vehicles.
“Based on early indications of interest from various potential customers, MicroVision anticipates that demand for these engines could result in revenue ranging from $30 million to $60 million over the 12 to 18 months following availability of the first production units,” the company reckons.
That would equate to a major ramp in revenues next year, particularly towards the second half. Sampling of the compact display units is expected to start before the end of this year, with production units slated for availability in early 2017.
The interactive 3D sensing/touch engine should be next, with samples from the second quarter of 2017 and production units following shortly afterwards. The lidar units are then expected to begin sampling in the second half of next year, with production units to follow in first half 2018.
• News of the ST deal prompted a 20 per cent rise in MicroVision’s Nasdaq-listed stock price, after a similar bounce following the financial results reported November 2.
However, the stock is still trading way below its 2009 peak and has lost more than half its value in 2016. Closing at $1.37 on November 10, the company commanded a market capitalization of just over $70 million.