Trilumina’s high-power lasers are designed for use in light and ranging capabilities. Trilumina’s laser chips will use Analog Devices’ high-speed pulse-laser driver to flash lasers out in all directions, enabling sensing and detection for autonomous vehicles
Albuquerque-based Trilumina Corp.’s laser-chip technology is driving a little faster into automotive markets through a new partnership with Analog Devices Inc., a global semiconductor company with firm ties to the auto industry.
The two companies will combine Trilumina’s advanced laser chips — which can enable powerful 3-D sensing capabilities for things like autonomous vehicles — with an ADI-made high-speed “pulse-laser driver” that will be used to flash Trilumina’s lasers out in all directions. The technologies will be fused into a single integrated module to allow cars to calculate size, shape and distance of objects.
Such light and ranging technology, or LiDAR, is critical to the future of automated vehicles and advanced driving and safety features like collision avoidance, pedestrian detection and automatic braking.
The combined, single-module technology can offer a much more compact and powerful system at lower cost than other LiDAR technologies on the market today, said Trilumina CEO Brian Wong.
“The industry is rushing toward 2020 deployment of broad-based LiDAR systems for autos, and we’re working to become a key part of that,” Wong said. “Our collaboration with ADI will help us get ready to go to production by 2019.”
Apart from complementary technologies, ADI has the manufacturing muscle needed to build the integrated modules and to scale production to meet market demand. It also has a long history of selling products into automotive markets, offering inroads into the industry.
Massachusetts-based ADI is a 50-year-old, publicly-traded company with $3.4 billion in annual revenue, 10,000 employees, and operations in 23 countries.
Trilumina is a venture-backed startup that launched in 2011 with homegrown technology. It created a new type of engineering architecture that allows it to pack hundreds of tiny lasers on a single chip, providing much more power and speed than traditional optics chips, which generally only include four to eight lasers.
In addition, the chips are small enough to pack 24 or more of them on a platform smaller than a penny, allowing Trilumina to create tiny modules with multiple laser arrays.
It also created a new, patented design that eliminates the need for the wiring typically used to connect chips with electronic circuitry when they’re set down on a packaging platform. Trilumina’s chips connect directly with circuits once placed in the module, allowing developers to significantly reduce the size and cost of LiDAR systems.
“Today’s systems are bulky and expensive, costing from about $10,000 to $30,000,” Wong said. “They also use mechanical spinning devices and other methods to get the laser to scan the entire environment, which is what’s making the systems expensive and holding LiDAR back from broad deployment.”
In contrast, Trilumina and ADI are building a pulse-laser flash LiDAR system with no moving parts, making the modules smaller and less expensive, possibly less than $1,000 each, Wong said.
Trilumina has received about $10 million in private investment to date from venture firms, including Cottonwood Technology Fund and Sun Mountain Capital in New Mexico, plus corporate partners such as the Japanese company DENSO International America Inc. and Caterpillar Ventures, a subsidiary of the global giant Caterpillar Inc.
“The collaboration with ADI is great for Trilumina,” said Cottonwood managing director David Blivin. “ADI is a big company that can handle all the automotive industry certification for the final product, and it has all the manufacturing systems in place. It’s a great endorsement of Trilumina’s technology.”