One Silicon Chip Photonics (OSCP): High-Performance IMU for Autonomous Vehicles
“I realized the disadvantages of inertial sensors and knew there must be a better way to do things… Our sensors enable autonomous vehicle navigation accuracy, use 10x less power, and are up to 30x cheaper and 50x smaller.”
For industrial drones, self-driving cars, and other autonomous vehicles, optical motion sensors on the market today leave much to be desired. Some solutions fail to provide reliable positional accuracy that’s crucial to safe operation, while others hit target accuracy but are bulky and expensive.
Kazem Zandi, PhD, Founder and CEO of One Silicon Chip Photonics (OSCP), has been working with micro-sized sensors for decades and now leads an integrated photonics technology startup that’s committed to helping AV manufacturers achieve performance objectives while cutting costs.
How is OSCP addressing a gap in the AV market?
[KZ] Any moving vehicle that you can imagine needs Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) for direction and positioning — from autonomous trains and robots to aerospace vehicles and military crafts. There are two critical components involved: three accelerometers, which tell you your position on 3-axis (x, y, and z); and three gyroscopes, which detect your rotation in 3-axis (yaw, pitch, and row). OSCP uses integrated photonics technology to incorporate these components on the same chip.
Of the other options on the market, one does not provide the accuracy needed for autonomous vehicles (called MEMS IMU). The other — an optical IMU like ours (called Fiber-Optics Gyroscope (FOG) IMU) — is large and costs thousands of dollars per unit, which is out of reach for many AV companies. By integrating the accelerometer and gyroscope on one chip, we are solving the cost, size, and power issues. Our sensors enable autonomous vehicle navigation accuracy, use 10x less power, and are up to 30x cheaper and 50x smaller. This is particularly important to drones because they need accuracy plus a small footprint. We are a good fit for all of those needs.
How did OSCP originate?
[KZ] This is a continuation of my PhD. I conducted my doctoral research in engineering physics in the field of micro-photonics, developing integrated-optics based inertial sensors. It was a time when autonomous vehicles were not nearly as realistic or advanced as they are now. I realized the disadvantages of inertial sensors and knew there must be a better way to do things. I started analyzing the market and then got involved in an incubator called Silicon Catalyst that exclusively focuses on semiconductor solutions. The advice I received through that experience helped ensure I was on the right path.
OSCP formally started in 2015. For the first couple of years, I was the only employee, but I was able to grow a team once we started receiving grants. So far we have received almost $3.5 million. We now have a six-person team and by the end of this year, we will most likely be at 10.
What led you to this field?
[KZ] I have always been curious about how things work in the world, and I have a passion for physics. I became interested in small devices, so that is what I chose to study. I’m originally from Iran, where I completed my Bachelors and Masters in Applied Physics, and I moved to Canada in 2007 for my PhD. I wanted to learn more about optics and laser technology, and Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal University happened to offer both. I have been working for organizations building Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) devices and nano-sized sensors for the past 20+ years, including Defence R&D Canada and IBM.
Where is OSCP now, and what helped move you forward?
[KZ] I had prototyped the accelerometer during my PhD, but the gyroscope presents complex physics challenges that we’ve been working on for the past four years. We are still in product development, implementing improvements and finalizing our integrated design. We currently have four customers we’re working with on pilot projects for drones, and one customer in autonomous trains.
Our team has gone through three accelerators other than Luminate: Plug and Play, Garage+ in Taiwan, and Founder Fuel in Montreal. We have also participated in challenge calls from companies seeking help with specific problems. I would encourage other startups to follow that approach — connect with companies that have put out requests for solutions. That led to a huge customer for us.
Any other advice for other startups?
[KZ] Consider the benefits of an accelerator, no matter what stage you’re at. An accelerator is there to accelerate you — it doesn’t mean that if your company is farther along you can’t benefit from the experience. At the end of the day, what a startup needs is to raise awareness and reach customers. Accelerators can help you do that.