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ABQ startup now has $8.5 million in venture capital

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Trilumina Corp. in Albuquerque has closed on a new round of venture investment, providing a total of $8.5 million for the company to continue developing and marketing its laser-based chips for 3D sensing and infrared illumination.

Boston-based Stage I Ventures led the round, joined by Cottonwood Technology Fund and Sun Mountain Capital, which manages New Mexico State Investment Council Funding for local startups.

Cottonwood and Sun Mountain had previously contributed to an open $5 million raise that began in late 2012, and which has now fully closed as part of the new investment. With additional funds provided in the latest round, the company’s total venture investment now stands at $8.5 million.

“The funds will allow us to continue our technology development and engage target customers in both the automotive and consumer electronics industries,” said Trilumina President and CEO Kirk Otis.

The company, which began operations in Albuquerque in late 2011, has created a plug-in chip that can ramp up wireless speeds to 10 gigabits per second, or about 500 times faster than average home wireless data transfer rates. It uses a new type of engineering architecture to pack hundreds of tiny lasers together on a wafer, providing much more power and speed compared with traditional optics chips.

The company has focused on enhancing consumer electronics by providing greater sensing capabilities to enable motion and gesture control of wireless devices. It has partnered with the Israeli company eyeSight Mobile Technologies Ltd to incorporate Trilumina chips in that firm’s consumer electronics. In fact, the two partners shared in a $900,000 grant from the Israeli-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation to further develop their gesture-sensing technology.

That could lead to TV remote control through hand gestures, among other things, Otis said.

“eyeSight wants to build a remote control device based on audio visual technology that would allow users to control things via gestures,” Otis said. “People could use natural motions to control things, such as raising a finger to one’s lips to put the system on mute, or waving one’s hand or arm to change the channel or raise the volume.”

That kind of technology already exists, but combining Trilumina’s chips with eyeSight’s software-enabled devices could add much more capability, such as allowing the remote control to see gestures in the dark.

“The ongoing collaboration between eyeSight and Trilumina will offer a powerful gesture interface solution for smart TVs, set-top boxes, laptops and mobile devices that works as well in dark rooms as it does in direct sunlight,” said eyeSight CEO Gideon Shmuel.

In addition, Trilumina is now pushing into the automotive market, seeking industrial partners to incorporate its chips into sensing technology for enhanced safety features and, eventually, for automated cars. That was a key point of interest for Stage I Ventures, which has extensive experience in the automotive industry.

Trilumina’s chips can markedly improve the use of light detection and ranging technology, or LiDAR, in automotive sensing, said Stage I partner David Baum.

LiDAR is basically the optical counterpart of radar, using light in the form of laser pulses to measure distances, enabling 3D sensing around vehicles.

“LiDAR is the next step for automotive safety enhancements and Trilumina’s solid-state LiDAR solutions are an excellent compliment to today’s radar and vision systems,” said Baum, who will now join the Trilumina board of directors.

Trilumina is housed in a 5,000-square-foot space at the University of New Mexico’s Science and Technology Park. It has 14 full- and part-time employees and expects to hire four to six more this year.