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Auto industry giant DENSO invests in Trilumina

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High power lasers designed to be used in Triluminas LiDAR modules. (Courtesy Trilumina)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Trilumina’s Corp.’s semi-conductor laser chips for 3-D sensing and communication got a huge vote of confidence from auto industry supplier DENSO International America Inc., which invested in the Albuquerque company this month.

DENSO is one of the world’s leading suppliers of advanced technology, systems and components for things like electronics and safety features in automotives. Its investment will help Trilumina develop and deploy its chips in the auto industry and other areas much faster and at lower cost than it could on its own, said Trilumina CEO Kirk Otis.

“It’s important for companies like ours to partner with key auto suppliers and original equipment manufacturers,” Otis said. “It means we won’t have to invest in a lot of the infrastructure and capability to develop and deploy our technology. DENSO has been in the industry for decades, and we can leverage their capabilities.”

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The amount committed by DENSO is confidential, but Trilumina says it has now raised a total of $15 million in private equity since launching in late 2011. As of last fall, the company had reported $8.5 million in private investments from a number of venture firms, including Boston-based Stage I Ventures, Santa Fe-based Cottonwood Technology Fund and Sun Mountain Capital, which manages State Investment Council funding for local startups.

New funding has come from various investors since then, said Trilumina Chief Strategy Officer David Abell. But DENSO’s commitment may mark a turning point.

“It’s one of the largest tier 1 companies in the global automotive industry,” Abell said.

Trilumina is now focusing on automotives to deploy its chip technology, a homegrown New Mexico breakthrough that can significantly increase data collection and transfer speeds for 3-D sensing.

The company 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. That could greatly boost sensing capabilities to better enable motion and gesture control of wireless devices.

In automotives, the sensing technology may be used to enhance safety features and aid in the development and eventual deployment of automated cars. It could markedly improve the use of light detection and ranging technology, or LiDAR, in automotive sensing to enable cars to calculate distances from other vehicles and objects. And it could boost driver monitoring systems to help make driving safer by detecting when a vehicle operator is distracted through things like texting or drowsiness.

“As a supplier of advanced driver assistance systems, DENSO is eager to work closely with Trilumina to bring high-performance, cost effective light source solutions to the market,” said Tony Cannestra, DENSO International America’s director of corporate ventures.

Eventually, Trilumina also wants to deploy its technology in industrial robotics and consumer electronics.

The company is housed in a 16,000-square-foot facility at the University of New Mexico’s Science and Technology Park. It employs 18 people and is now hiring three more.

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