UT spin-off LightCode Photonics raises €425K to transform the autonomous vehicle industry

LightCode Photonics recently closed a pre-seed investment round of €425K, led by United Angels VC and Superangel. The round also included a list of early backers from renowned Estonian angel investors, such as Bolt co-founder Martin Villig, the country’s former CIO Taavi Kotka, Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi, and co-founder of Pipedrive Ragnar Sass.

Founded in 2020, LightCode Photonics is a Tartu-based tech startup developing breakthrough technology for mobility. It’s aim? To change the way a robot looks at the world by building a compact LiDAR-class 3D camera that will transform the autonomous mobility sector, particularly autonomous cars powered by satellite navigation.

The startup states that the global autonomous vehicle market was valued at €44+ billion in 2019 and is projected to reach €455+ billion by 2026. The market is catered to by different sensor technologies, dominated by 3D laser scanning technology LiDAR, for providing the highest accuracy of situational awareness to date. The LiDAR market is expected to reach €2.2 billion by 2025, growing with a 19% CAGR between 2020 and 2025.

While leading the development of state-of-the-art 3D imaging technology, LiDAR has its downsides for a big portion of the autonomous vehicle market. The complexity of the technology and design makes it too large, fragile, and expensive for smaller service robots, like delivery, city maintenance, and firefighting robots. This hinders the wider availability of service robots for everyday environments to increase the general quality of life.

That’s where LightCode Photonic promises to help, with its high-performance 3D imaging technology within the price range of a stereo camera. According to LightCode’s founder, CEO and Associate Professor in Physical Optics in UT Heli Valtna (Ph.D.), there is plenty of potential in existing low-resolution LiDAR detectors to build into high-performance compact solid-state 3D imaging cameras. The company uses fundamentally different principles for acquiring images, inspired by quantum-light shaping technologies combined with the software-defined operation. The solution allows upgrading the performance of inexpensive hardware components for accurate real-time 3D mapping, making the solution highly scalable for roughly 90% of autonomous vehicle developers.

“The next generation of 3D cameras will demonstrate significant resolution enhancement beyond their native pixel count, without relying on delicate moving parts for situational awareness. Very soon the detection range of 3D cameras will catch up to high-end LiDAR,“ said CEO and founder Valtna, who is also former head of autonomy development at Europe’s leading autonomous systems developer Milrem Robotics.

With the new investment on board, CEO and founder Valtna is working with a PhD-level team and a tight circle of advisors, including technologist, ex-Skyper, and Bolt’s first investor Toomas Bergmann, to develop a compact prototype of its patent-pending software-defined 3D camera. The technology is set to be validated with a hand-picked list of early adopters, including Cleveron and Milrem Robotics, in summer 2021.

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