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PhotonFocus delivers sharper vision to industry

Start-up PhotonFocus has seen business boom (www.photonfocus.com) swissinfo.ch

Startup company, PhotonFocus, develops sensors and cameras that give automation systems sharper images to work with even when the lightning is not optimal.

This content was published on September 16, 2002 - 09:59

The CSEM spinoff has just received venture capital funding and a significant sales contract.

PhotonFocus makes advanced image sensors and cameras for high-end machine vision systems used in industrial robots to view, measure and capture images of products being manufactured or assembled.

Venture financing

The company closed its first round of venture financing last month, raising SFr 2 million from two Swiss venture capital investment firms - Bern Venture Group (Bern) and BCAP (Zug), a small venture fund, majority owned by BZ Trust.

They join seed round investor Zentronica, a special fund set up to encourage start-ups in central Switzerland.

PhotonFocus is a one-year-old firm is based in the central Swiss village of Lachen. It is one of 15 high tech companies recently spun off by the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), which has research groups in Neuchatel, Zürich, and in nearby Alpnach.

LINLOG technology

The young company has plans to develop new niche markets in medical and security applications, exploiting its LINLOG technology.

LINLOG stands for a combination linear and logarithmic response in a single pixel. Such sensors have a faster response time when processing images and "a higher contrast ability compared to traditional logarithmic image sensors", according to the firm.

This means that the cameras function well in widely varying levels of illumination, which should make them suitable for industrial, traffic, or security surveillance applications, since the source and strength of light cannot always be strictly controlled in such environments.

The cameras and image sensors are made using the semiconductor process, known as Complementary Metal Oxide Silicon (CMOS), which according to the experts, is the next wave in camera and sensors technology.

Developments

PhotonFocus has gone from product development to market at speed, already signing its first order for 1,000 cameras to be delivered over the next two years to a company called DALSA based in Waterloo, Ontario.

DALSA designs, develops, manufactures, and markets semiconductors, digital imaging solution products, and wafer foundry services. Its customers include Motorola and Dupont. According to Mangold, Photonfocus' product enables the Canadian firm to "complete its product line".

The cameras sell for between EUR 1500 and EUR 4500, according to PhotonFocus' CEO René Mangold. At the moment, the company can produce about 100 cameras a month. In one year's time it expects to be producing "in the thousands".

To do that and stay lean, while keeping costs down, the young firm outsources its production and manufacturing to a contractor manufacturer.

"We have lots of choice here in Switzerland," says Mangold who did not want to disclose manufacturing partner names.

swissinfo

FAST FACTS

CSEM spinoff makes cutting edge image sensors and cameras
First customers are from the machine vision (automated manufacturing) sector
Early stage funding raised from two Swiss investors SFr 2 million
Investors attracted to startup's early revenue generation and market potential
Machine-vision systems used in automating manufacturing can take sharper images using new camera technology from Swiss startup, PhotonFocus. The CSEM spinoff is already earning revenues and has its eye on other markets for its innovative, high definition, mega pixel camera

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