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Estonia-based startup LightCode Photonics turns LiDAR-class 3D cameras into reality

Date Announced: 21 May 2021

High recognition in the global ActInSpace innovation contest and investment from tech visionaries support the promise of the Estonian deep tech startup to transform the autonomous mobility sector.

CEO Heli Valtna (on the left) with a part of her team.

Tartu, Estonia -- At this year’s ActInSpace global innovation contest, a high-level jury selected LightCode Photonics among the top 1%. “We recognize LightCode Photonics for the breakthrough potential of their technology that can provide substantial improvements for autonomous cars powered by satellite navigation,” the jury commented, comprising executives from European Space Agency and Airbus Defence & Space, among others.

The company's founder-CEO Heli Valtna's PhD-level team is working with a circle of advisors, including technologist, ex-Skyper, and Bolt's first investor Toomas Bergmann, on a compact prototype of its patent-pending software-defined 3D camera™. The technology is set to be validated with a hand-picked list of early adopters, including Cleveron and Milrem Robotics, in summer 2021.

LightCode Photonics recently closed a pre-seed investment round, led by VC funds United Angels VC and Superangel, including renowned angel investors, like Bolt co-founder Martin Villig, Estonia's former CIO Taavi Kotka, Teleport (now Topia) co-founder Sten Tamkivi, and Ragnar Sass, co-founder of the fresh unicorn Pipedrive.

"It is obvious that robots must see the world they operate in. I'm very impressed with how LightCode solves this science fiction problem today, and for real. In a way, the software can be said to ‘eat’ the lasers,” Tamkivi commented.

LightCode Photonics's promise to transform the autonomous mobility sector with 3D imaging technology in the price range of a stereo camera has caught the attention of some of the world’s leading technology corporations, further undisclosed at this time.

For some years now the LiDAR market has shown signs of overheating. Despite investment overflow and complex high-end developments, the sector has failed to meet the $50+ billion autonomous vehicle industry's core need for an affordable high-performance sensor that is durable, aesthetically pleasing, and enables vehicle safety. This has prompted the fast-growing autonomous vehicle industry to look for alternatives.

According to Valtna, who was formerly the head of autonomy development at Europe’s leading autonomous systems developer Milrem Robotics, there is plenty of potential in existing low-resolution LiDAR detectors to build into high-performance 3D imaging cameras. The company uses fundamentally different principles for acquiring images, inspired by quantum-light shaping technologies combined with software-defined operation.

The solution allows upgrading the performance of inexpensive hardware components for accurate real-time 3D mapping, making the solution highly scalable for roughly 90% of autonomous vehicle developers.

“The next generation of 3D cameras will demonstrate significant resolution enhancement beyond their native pixel count, without relying on delicate moving parts for situational awareness. Very soon the detection range of 3D cameras will catch up to the high-end LiDAR,“ said Valtna.

Why it matters

The global autonomous vehicle market was valued at $54.23 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $556.67 billion by 2026. The market is catered to by different sensor technologies, dominated by 3D laser scanning technology LiDAR, for providing the highest accuracy of situational awareness to date. The LiDAR market is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2025, growing with a 19% CAGR between 2020 and 2025.

While leading the development of state-of-the-art 3D imaging technology, LiDAR has its downsides for a big portion of the autonomous vehicle market. The complexity of the technology and design makes it too large, fragile, and expensive for smaller service robots, like delivery, city maintenance, and firefighting robots; hindering the wider availability of service robots for everyday environments to increase the general quality of life.

While LightCode's 3D camera technology is directly transferable to other sectors in the 3D imaging market, the company is specifically targeting the global service robotics market, projected to grow from $37 billion in 2020 to $102.5 billion by 2025 with a CAGR of 22.6%. Ground-based service robots are estimated to grow at the highest CAGR, with main applications in healthcare, warehousing, hospitality, and agriculture, but also in private households.

An affordable technology to address the 3D sensor bottleneck has the potential to accelerate the growth of the given markets beyond the current estimates.

About the ActInSpace global innovation competition

ActInSpace was created by the French Government's National Centre For Space Studies (CNES), organized by The European Space Agency (ESA), and operated by the French cluster of aerospace engineering companies and research centers – Aerospace Valley. The contest enables teams of 2-5 people throughout the world to take up a 24-hour challenge, based on their own patent or data provided by the event's partners; Airbus, SES, Continental, ESSP, WEKEO, and others.


LightCode Photonics OÜ
Riia 181a
51014 Tartu
Tel. +372 505 1464

E-mail: anari.hagel@lightcodephotonics.com

Web Site: https://www.lightcodephotonics.com/

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