Innovate UK ICURe Programme - Phlux Technology
Phlux Technology is the designer of high-performance infrared sensors delivering the world’s first LIDAR receiver chip using Antimonides. A spin-out of the University of Sheffield, the company is based in one of the world’s leading centres for III-V semiconductor research and is building integrated subsystems and array modules to offer a high-performance sensor toolkit, which will have applications beyond LIDAR in satellite communications and enabling internet in remote regions, fibre telecoms, autonomous vehicles, gas sensing and quantum communications.
Phlux Technology receives £4 million in seed funding to launch its high-performance LIDAR sensor line.
The creator of high-performance infrared sensors, Phlux Technology, has received £4 million in early investment from reputable deep tech investors. Octopus Ventures served as the round’s lead investor, while other investors included Northern Gritstone, the Foresight Williams Technology Funds, the Innovation Fund, and Innovate UK.
Phlux, a former participant of the ICURe programme, is a spin-out from Sheffield University and has leveraged its extensive study of the semi-metal element antimony to create an innovative, patented method for infrared sensors that will significantly enhance their performance in LIDAR (light detection and ranging) systems. The cost of manufacturing LIDAR sensors has decreased because to the new architecture, which is 10 times more sensitive and has 50% greater range than similar sensors. This has made LIDAR sensors more widely available.
In the first stage of commercialisation Phlux has developed a single element sensor with world leading sensitivity that is retrofittable into today’s LIDAR systems and will be part of the Phyllo series product line. Longer term, Phlux is building an integrated subsystem and array modules forming a high-performance sensor toolkit and over the next year, it will grow its engineering team in areas such as fabrication, mixed signal circuit design, optics and testing.
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Putting Sheffield and Phlux at the forefront of cutting-edge semiconductor technologies
Understanding the Industry
The UK compound semiconductor industry, which represents around 8% of the global market, was estimated by the Semiconductor Applications Catapult to be worth $8 billion in 2020 and $11 billion in 2024. With 110 design businesses established there, TechUK underlines the nation’s expertise in semiconductor design and Intellectual Property (IP), as well as its position as a global leader in non-silicon-based compounds, a market that Phlux is entering. With world-class research and resources at Sheffield University and The National Epitaxy Facility, which received $12 million in funding from UK Research and Innovation, Phlux is located in one of the top III-V semiconductor research hubs in the world (UKRI).
The Future of Phlux's Sensors
Beyond LIDAR, infrared sensors like those Phlux is developing have uses in fibre telecom, driverless cars, gas sensing, and quantum communications, as well as satellite communications and enabling internet in remote areas. Phlux has received funding from Innovate UK to work on a project with Quantum success story QLM to create sensors for a camera that uses LIDAR to detect greenhouse gas emissions.
Murray Reed, Chief Executive Officer of QLM, stated, “We are pleased to be partnering with Phlux to build sensors for our single-photon LIDAR for the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions. “Climate control necessitates the deployment of monitoring systems on a very wide scale, which necessitates low-cost technology and total supply chain management of vital components like sensors. The use of Phlux’s technology by us opens up a new UK supplier with enormous potential and provides a superior performing alternative to the present method.
Overcoming the limitations of silicon-based sensors
Phlux Technology was founded by Ben White, CEO, Professor Jo Shien Ng and Professor Chee Hing Tan, who met at Sheffield University where they researched novel semiconductor materials and devices for infrared detection. Unlike Moore’s Law for semiconductors which predicts performance improvement every 18 months, infrared sensors (InGaAs) have reached a plateau in terms of performance. Having studied alternatives for more than 10 years, the founders identified Antimony as a material capable of revolutionising the LIDAR sensor market. It opens access to the 1550nm infrared space, offering higher sensitivity and capacity as it operates in the ‘eye safe’ region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Well over 1,000 times more photons can safely be launched compared to silicon compatible emitters, enabling Antimony based sensors to see further, with greater pixel density at a mass market cost.
Ben White, CEO & Co-Founder at Phlux Technology
“Our ambition is to become the Nvidia of the sensor market, starting off with delivering the world’s first LIDAR sensor chip using Antimony. Industry will never achieve full autonomy with LIDAR if it relies on silicon-based sensors, so our approach will reshape the sensor market for robotics and self-driving machines. We are delighted to be spinning Phlux out of Sheffield University at a time when it has ambitious plans to become a global centre of excellence for semiconductor research and the UK is looking to demonstrate its capabilities as a global science superpower”
Phlux Technology Investors
Matthew Burke, Williams Advanced Engineering's head of technology ventures
"With this seed financing, we anticipate seeing Phlux's sensor technology go to full commercialization. Increasing sensor performance while driving down cost are critical accelerators for speeding the acceptance of greater degrees of driving automation"
Director of Investments at Foresight Christopher Wiles
"Phlux's ground-breaking technology has the potential to take over as the de facto norm for automotive LIDAR systems. We anticipate assisting its entrepreneurial team as they accomplish this goal"
Deep tech investor Amy Nommeots-Nomm, Octopus Ventures
"We are honoured to be leading this funding round for Phlux Technology since its ground-breaking innovation is essential to the development of transportation, communication, and emission monitoring systems in the future. Because the silicon-based sensor businesses are currently consolidating their markets exactly because they are unable to address the issue that Phlux has solved, the technology's potential is extremely intriguing”
Northern Gritstone's CEO, Duncan Johnson
"Phlux Technology is an excellent example of the innovative new generation of science and technology enterprises transforming research into reality in the North of England. The business' creative strategy exemplifies how cutting-edge technology, with the potential to transform whole sectors, is coming from the triangle of Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester. Businesses like Phlux are supported and accelerated by Northern Gritstone"
About the Innovation Fund
The Fund presents the opportunity for alumni and qualifying investors to make an impact investment in spin-out companies formed to commercialise scientific and technological advances made at Queen’s University Belfast. To support the Fund’s pipeline, consideration will also be given to Queen’s student ventures and spin-outs from partner Universities participating in the Queen’s administered NxNW ICURe Programme. The NxNW consortium encompasses Ulster University, University of Edinburgh, University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, and the University of Leeds.