Metalens startup Imagia raises $4.5M Silicon Valley firm to aim flat, silicon-based optics at augmented reality applications as Gates Frontier provides seed funding.
May 2, 2023
Silicon Valley firm to aim flat, silicon-based optics at augmented reality applications as Gates Frontier provides seed funding.
Imagia, a startup company working on metamaterials technology, says it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding, with which it plans to accelerate development and initial commercial deployment of its novel lenses.
The firm, founded by CEO and coffee entrepreneur Greg Kress, wants to aim the technology at applications in augmented reality (AR) glasses, where metalenses promise to reduce weight and bulkiness dramatically compared with current designs.
Led by the Gates Frontier fund, the seed round was joined by MetaVC Partners - a specialist fund set up to invest in early-stage metamaterials startup companies that is supported by Gates Frontier and glass optics giant Corning, among others.
Imagia says that its particular approach allows for completely new device architectures; pointing out that its metalenses can be built directly on top of LEDs and image sensors in the same fabrication flow, eliminating several critical steps of opto-mechanical alignment.
“Imagia’s metalens technology can shrink an entire optical assembly into a planar, wafer-thin device, resulting in a dramatic reduction in size and complexity for optical assemblies,” claims the firm.
“Using the patent-pending approach, Imagia can precisely pattern nanoscale structures directly onto various substrates, creating completely flat metalenses that steer light waves by design, and without the need for traditional curved lenses.
“The lenses can be square or round, and can be made as small as a single pixel on a digital display.”
Kress, who previously set up “hardware-enabled office coffee service” firm Pearl Coffee, has joined forces with metamaterials specialist Abdoulaye Ndao, who is an assistant professor at Boston University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
In previous work at the University of California, Berkeley, Ndao and colleagues demonstrated broadband functionality of optical metamaterials.
Ndao is listed as Imagia’s VP of engineering, working alongside former Lumentum process engineer Arindom Datta, and materials scientist Heydar Honarvar Nazari, previously technical manager at Kish Solar.
Next-gen AR glasses
“Metamaterials are a true paradigm shift in the way we manipulate light akin to the shift from analog to digital computing,” said Kress in a release announcing the seed funding.
“Traditional glass lenses have been around for hundreds of years. The inherent constraints of working with these types of lenses result in complex, bulky optical assemblies that require precise mechanical alignments. Imagia changes that approach by building lenses like integrated circuits, something that was not possible until very recently.”
Imagia’s own metalens technology is described as being at the prototype stage currently, and to be capable of a 90 per cent or greater reduction in optical system volume when used in AR glasses or holographic displays.
The startup firm also sees potential uses in lens design for image sensing, with size and weight benefits for smart phone cameras, satellite imaging, and machine vision.
Imagia is already collaborating with AR hardware and optics firm Pulsar, whose CEO and founder David Bonelli commented:
“We are firm believers that the next generation of AR glasses will be powered by this kind of metalens technology. Imagia’s metalens technology promises to open up new frontiers in optical design that were previously impossible.”
Imagia will be competing against Metalenz, the company set up by Harvard University metamaterials pioneer Federico Capasso and others that closed a $30 million series B venture round in late 2022.
Metalenz has since moved into new larger premises in Boston, employing upwards of 40 people. The firm’s metasurface optics are already being used in time-of-flight systems for consumer electronics via a partnership with STMicroelectronics, while its “PolarEyes” product won a Prism Award earlier this year.