From 5G to self-driving cars, silicon photonics are set to play a critical role in a range of innovative industries.
Rockley Photonics, a British firm specialising in advanced photonics based sensors, has won $65m to accelerate the development of its platform. The money was raised in a round of growth capital from new private funds alongside existing investor Morningside Ventures, making a total of over $290m in funding to date.
Silicon photonics, which combine integrated circuits with semiconductor lasers to move data at high speed over long distances, are valuable to a range of industries. They help ease bandwidth bottlenecks in data centres, and play critical roles in other growing markets that involve huge amounts of data processing – such as machine learning and environmental sensing.
With the funding, Rockley plans to scale its platform for the high-volume production of high density photonics circuits. This will help the firm claim its share of the expanding global silicon photonics market, which is widely expected to grow significantly in the next few years.
“We believe that silicon photonics is at a tipping point”, said Mick Sawka, investment manager at Morningside Group. “The technical attributes of Rockley’s platform, coupled with the strong product roadmap and established high-volume production ecosystem, uniquely position the company for growth in exciting verticals of interest including health care.”
Along with demand for medical technology, the rise of computer vision, 5G, data centres, and wearable devices, are all expected to increase global appetite for silicon photonics. Rockley’s low-cost, high-value wafer scale photonics compete to serve these applications in a market that is currently dominated by a few large players.
Leading photonics company Intel developed its own expertise in-house, but others have made tactical acquisitions: Cisco closed the buyout of Luxtera in 2019 for $660 million, and in 2020, Nvidia and Nokia both announced plans to buy pioneering silicon photonics firms. More recently, Lumentum announced an agreement to acquire Coherent in a $5.7 billion cash and stock transaction in January. This uptick in investment could be expected to continue as the technology continues to transition out of research and development and into production.
Nihalf Mohammed, Debt Advisory Practice lead at Acuity Advisors commented,
“Over the last few decades silicon photonics developed to surpass the physical limits of electrical IO systems, breaking bottlenecks on data transfer rates. While the industry continues to increase the maximum bandwidth and speed of the Internet, further uses for the technology have been discovered more recently, including LIDAR, near and mid-infrared sensors, and quantum computing. Rockley is one of the pioneers in this space, and we expect them to have a major impact in the opto-electrical world of the future.”
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