Photonics on silicon is an inexpensive, miniaturized, and efficient technology that can be used in various types of sensors. Here are four deeptech companies that aim to leverage this technology to disrupt competing technologies: Inspek, Mirsense, Genalyte, and Anello.
Inspek, which was founded by Jérôme Michon in 2021 after completing his thesis on integrated photonics at MIT, is working on silicon-integrated Raman spectroscopy sensors. The goal is to manufacture a sensor on the scale of a chip that can detect chemical and biological compounds in real time. The sensor is small and costs only a few euros, making it much more affordable than the expensive Raman spectroscopy systems based on mirrors, lenses, or optical fibers. The sensor is disposable, which is perfect for medical diagnosis as single-use devices are required for quality assurance. Inspek has developed a prototype and is conducting tests with a few potential customers.
Mirsense is another start-up that is working on using photonics on silicon to create a new sensor. The company was created in 2015 and is a leader in the sale of QCL (Quantum Cascade Laser) for the defense and security industry (powerMir) and for civilian uses (uniMir). The start-up also sells a gas analyzer that integrates its lasers (multiSense). The company is currently raising funds to begin a miniaturization phase for its products. Mathieu Carras, the general manager of Mirsense, is developing a miniature photo-acoustic system that uses a pulsed Quantum Cascade Laser and a sound detector, a microphone built on a silicon chip. The goal is to use these lasers to detect molecules, especially methane, which is very visible in the mid-infrared.
Genalyte is a deeptech start-up that has created a simplified immunological test system called Maverick. The system uses micrometer-sized ring resonators housed on a silicon photonic chip. The molecular probes grafted onto these resonators capture the molecules of the blood sample to be analyzed. This interaction modifies the wavelengths of the optical signal circulating in the resonators, coupled to adjacent linear waveguides. The measurement of the wavelength shifts determines the composition and proportion of the various chemical species, such as the antibodies captured by their respective antigens. Ring resonator technology is derived from a process used in fiber optic telecommunications, invented at Caltech and the University of Illinois in the 2010s. The technology is much less expensive than current diagnostic techniques that require fluorescent, luminescent, or radioactive markers. Two tests performed by the Maverick technology have been approved by the United States Drug Administration (FDA).
Anello is a deeptech start-up that has created a precision gyroscope. The company was founded by Mario Paniccia and Mike Horton, who wanted autonomous vehicles to locate themselves in real-time without relying on GPS sensors and without costing the price of a fiber optic gyroscope (FOG) of $40,000 or more. Anello has developed a very low-loss waveguide on-chip manufacturing process, dispensing with optical fiber. The patented silicon photonic integrated circuit replaces the discrete optical components (couplers, modulators, and detectors) found in a FOG, reducing the size and cost of the gyroscope. The Silicon Photonics Optical Gyro (SiPhOG) works almost like a classic FOG, using two rays of light phase-shifted by a complex process known as the Sagnac effect, which allows a vehicle to locate itself in space with precision, independently of GPS signals.