This market research report was originally published at the Yole Group’s website. It is reprinted here with the permission of the Yole Group.
SWIR imaging has been used for years in niche applications in the defense and industrial markets. For the last few years, SWIR has gained interest from the mass markets (consumer and automotive). For example, the latest Apple iPhone 14 Pro uses a SWIR proximity sensor, and an increasing number of automotive LiDAR companies are selecting the 1,550nm wavelength for their systems.
While these single-pixel SWIR sensors are spreading, higher-resolution imagers are still at an earlier stage of development and require a significant technological disruption before following the same path. Current state-of-the-art InGaAs technology, at a cost of several thousand dollars per chip, is not suitable for adoption in volume-driven markets. Besides the technological aspects, these new markets need to be educated on SWIR, new modality that behaves differently than more classical frequencies (in visible or near-infrared range). If these challenges are overcome, Yole intelligence, part of Yole Group expects the SWIR imaging market to reach near $3 billion by 2028, driven by consumer applications at first, followed by a potential adoption in automotive.
Regarding automotive, most of the current ADAS systems rely on visible cameras. These suffer from poor efficiency or sensitivity in many situations, such as nighttime or bad weather conditions. The car industry is moving towards a higher level of automation, and OEMs are looking for technologies that can deal with these cases, and infrared could be part of the solution. In the future, one can imagine visible and infrared cameras, LiDAR, and RADAR systems coexisting, together covering all corner cases and ensuring high redundancy and safety to reach even higher automation levels.
This overview is coming from the SWIR report, released by Yole Group. The 2023 edition is coming soon.
Today, Axel Clouet, Technology & Market Analyst, from Yole Intelligence interviews Avil Bakal, CEO and co-founder of TriEye. Following a variety of recent breakthroughs, they review together, the status of this industry and analyze the business opportunities for SWIR solutions.
Axel Clouet (AC): Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Avi Bakal (AB): I am the CEO and co-founder of TriEye LTD, located in Tel Aviv. We founded TriEye over 5 years ago with the intention of revolutionizing and redefining SWIR sensing with new technology. Since then, our team has been doing just that.
TriEye was started based on nanophotonics research that we conducted at Hebrew University. We have since progressed in every aspect to create a full solution. We have developed a new image sensor, and new photonics components and algorithms that have achieved mass-scale technological breakthroughs in record time specifically, a giant leap forward in ADAS and AV safety, reliability, and functionality.
TriEye’s Raven: HD CMOS-based SWIR image sensor (courtesy of TriEye, 2023)
AC: What is TriEye’s backstory/history?
AB: TriEye is a Tel Aviv-based fabless semiconductor company founded in 2017 by Avi Bakal (CEO), Prof. Uriel Levy (CTO), and Omer Kapach (VP R&D). TriEye’s team is comprised of experts in device physics, analog & VLSI design, photonics, algorithms, and electro-optics, working together to revolutionize machine vision capabilities. The strength of our team stems from its multidisciplinary and collaborative environment. Based on advanced nanophotonics research, TriEye successfully developed the world’s first CMOS-based SWIR sensing technology that offers lower cost and higher resolution at a smaller size than current technologies. TriEye is working with several global automotive OEMs to use TriEye SEDAR™ technology to solve the low visibility challenge (i.e., night-time, sun glare, etc.) for ADAS and AV. To date TriEye has raised over $96 million, receiving support from top-tier financial and strategic investors and leading OEMs and Tier 1s.
AC: Legacy SWIR imaging technologies are not compatible with adoption in high-volume markets such as automotive. How does TriEye contribute to the disruption of SWIR technologies? Which form does it take?
AB: We are revolutionizing SWIR sensing with our advanced sensing solution comprised of 3 pillars: a CMOS-based SWIR image sensor, laser source, and algorithm layer that we have developed from scratch to enable high-volume manufacturing and meet stringent performance requirements. This solution enables SWIR imaging and 3D capabilities in systems that previously required expensive InGaAs detectors on small InP substrates or just could not achieve the same performance due to the limitations of physics and material properties. We have developed the capability to make a SWIR imager on a CMOS platform that provides lower cost in a high-volume manufacturing platform and opens up a whole new way to address the automotive and several other emerging markets.
It is a real game changer in the automotive market for us to be able to use these technologies to provide long-range, eye-safe imaging and ranging capabilities. We’ve built our SEDAR (Spectrum Enhanced Detection And Ranging) as a unique and highly flexible sensing platform, simultaneously delivering HD SWIR (Short-Wave Infrared) 2D images & a detailed deterministic 3D depth map. The SEDAR platform leverages TriEye’s world-first innovations: TriEye’s Raven HD CMOS-based SWIR image sensor and TriEye’s UltraBlaze, an ultra-high-power, eye-safe, pulsed SWIR illuminator.
TriEye’s SEDAR: A highly flexible sensing platform that delivers HD SWIR (Short-Wave Infrared) 2D images & a detailed deterministic 3D depth map simultaneously (courtesy of TriEye, 2023)
AC: What is the SEDAR platform? How does it work? What are its key advantages compared to other ADAS imaging systems?
AB: SEDAR consists of TriEye’s Raven HD CMOS-based SWIR image sensor and TriEye’s UltraBlaze, an ultra-high-power, eye-safe, pulsed SWIR illuminator. It works by combining a high-speed flash LiDAR concept and a high-definition gated imager to collect depth data at each pixel along with material characteristics provided in the SWIR range. Through our extensive R&D, we have designed the imager from the pixel up, optimizing the materials, fabrication process, and read-out electronics. It takes a lot of work to start a revolution, and we’ve done it all here at TriEye. We have also developed advanced software to take advantage of the unique technical capabilities and simultaneously deliver high-resolution depth accuracy at a high speed.
Using a SWIR wavelength range is key to allowing eye safety at long range and minimizing atmospheric effects of the system. Our solution provides a much longer range than NIR LiDAR, lower cost than InP-based LiDAR, and the ability to operate in all environmental conditions, such as rain, fog, darkness, and sun glare, where visible cameras are not effective. SWIR images also provide additional material characteristics and scene information not available from visible cameras, allowing systems to detect the difference between people and pictures or mannequins, live plants and trees versus fakes, and also distinguish between water and other liquids on the road.
Because SEDAR also simultaneously provides an HD SWIR image along with the depth map, we can use existing AI, computational neural networks (CNN), and machine learning algorithms, similar to what has already been developed and deployed in visible cameras, for much-improved object detection and classification than typical LiDAR solutions.
TriEye’s SEDAR (Spectrum Enhanced Detection And Ranging): The first of its kind sensing system that delivers the benefits of a camera and a LIDAR in one cost effective system (courtesy of TriEye, 2023)
AC: What is the difference between the SEDAR platform and LiDAR systems?
AB: SEDAR combines the capabilities of LiDAR detection and ranging with a high spatial-resolution SWIR camera in a compact, high-reliability module. The SEDAR platform provides similar detection and ranging capabilities of long-range, forward-looking LiDAR, with object detection and classification beyond 200 meters. SEDAR is a true solid-state solution with no moving parts, including no MEMS mirrors. The SEDAR system provides much higher resolution and significantly more points per second (PPS) for ranging, providing a minimum of 5M PPS – higher than any other LiDAR on the market. This allows many more data points on objects for detection, enabling more accurate and more computationally efficient object classification.
AC: Why does SEDAR operate in the SWIR spectrum rather than NIR? What are the specificities of SWIR wavelength? What is the operating wavelength of SEDAR?
AB: The SEDAR platform is optimized to work in the SWIR wavelength range for several reasons. Importantly, SWIR is much safer than NIR – up to 1000x safer than NIR which allows us to increase system performance with improved SNR and detection range by using higher power illumination. Because of that, SWIR operation will extend the range of existing NIR solutions in automotive, industrial, and consumer markets and enable long-distance outdoor operation. Another advantage of operating in the SWIR is the solar blind region around 1380nm which inherently reduces the system noise level. For these reasons, it is a great wavelength range to operate in, and we are the first to really be able to take advantage of these benefits with our SEDAR solution.
AC: What is the advantage of Trieye’s Raven sensor technology compared to other SWIR technologies such as InGaAs or quantum dots?
AB: Compared to InGaAs, the Raven sensors are much more cost-effective. They are manufactured on larger wafers, either 8-inch or 12-inch, in a more scalable, higher volume CMOS platform than InGaAs on InP substrates. Also, our CMOS pixels are smaller than InGaAs detectors, allowing higher-resolution image sensors in a compact format.
Compared to CQD, the Raven is capable of operating at higher speeds over a much wider wavelength range with higher quantum efficiency, allowing both SWIR imaging and depth sensing. The Raven has much better manufacturing uniformity and does not contain Lead (Pb), which is in current CQD technologies.
AC: How does the SEDAR solution promote your vision of mobility in the future?
AB: We are heavily focused on enabling ADAS solutions today and expect that to lead to full autonomy in the future. Level 3 autonomy is within sight today, and we expect that the combination of SEDAR performance, maturity, and cost – along with adopting new regulations – will drive the adoption of fully autonomous vehicles.
In 2030, many advances in technology will lead to new urban mobility solutions. The performance and scalability of SEDAR-based systems will be key to improving the safety and efficiency of urban mobility. Today, technology is evolving and improving rapidly, and we are deploying new systems and capabilities as quickly as possible. The Level 3 vehicle systems (and above) that incorporate the SEDAR sensing platform will help to optimize traffic flow on existing transportation networks leading to less congestion and safer roads. In order to reach these goals by 2030, we need to deploy these technologies in vehicles rather than rely on improvements to transportation infrastructure.
AC: When do you expect to the first SEDAR-like system to be integrated into a car? What will be your business model: selling an entire module or selling only components to Tier-1s?
AB: TriEye is working to qualify SEDAR solutions with OEMs and Tier1s for model years beginning in 2026. The flexibility of the SEDAR platform allows us to offer it to the market in both a module and as individual components, depending on the customer’s requirements. This allows the SEDAR system to be designed into vehicles to provide both performance and style. In other applications, standard SEDAR modules allow for easy integration and a quick design cycle starting already in 2024.
AC: What sectors can benefit from SEDAR? Besides consumer automotive, what other applications could use your sensors or systems?
AB: In addition to the automotive market, SEDAR solutions are being developed today for mobile robots, construction and agriculture machinery, and consumer products. We are seeing a proliferation of new applications that are taking advantage of existing 3D sensing capabilities – and starting to realize the limitations of the current visible and NIR solutions. Basically, anywhere that 3D sensing is being deployed today, or beginning to be used, can use SEDAR in the SWIR wavelength range to enhance the system performance with a longer range, improved eye safety, and outdoor operation.