French startup Prophesee, which has developed a new type of visual sensor, is raising an additional €50m in its Series C funding round, bringing its total fundraising since its inception in 2014 to €127m, making it the “most funded” . semiconductor startup in Europe without factories,” says Luca Verre, its co-founder and CEO.
This fundraiser is led by Prosperity7 Ventures, a Saudi Aramco investment fund focused on disruptive technologies known as “deep technologies.” Two other big investors are Sinovation Ventures and Xiaomi. “Prosperity7 is a growth-stage fund that is committed to our long-term vision,” says Luca Verre in an interview with L’Usine Digitale. “This is an ally, this is a long-term financial ally for further development.”
100 potential clients, 5000 independent developers
Prophesee is indeed in the phase of commercial development and expansion of its technology into new markets. In 2020, the company passed a key stage in the industrialization of its technologies through a partnership with Sony, a leader in photo sensors.
One sensor per event
The principle of the sensor is that its pixels are independent of each other and asynchronous, so that each of them is activated only if it detects a change in the observed scene. This so-called “event” approach, based on the functioning of the biological eye, allows you to capture information much faster than with a traditional image sensor, without generating large amounts of data and consuming much less time and energy.
Since then, he has focused on the industrial robotics market. Its third-generation Metavision sensor is featured in three cameras designed by Lucid, Imago and Century Arks. At the Vision show in Stuttgart on October 6, three new partnerships will be announced related to the fourth generation sensor (created with Sony).
“5,000 independent developers are using our software today, and we have a lineup of 100 customers who are at various stages of adopting the technology,” clarifies the CEO. “Some evaluate it, others have begun to integrate it, even sell it.”
Focus on the smartphone market
But the startup is strongly focused on new markets, in this case the market for smartphones and virtual and augmented reality headsets. “Xiaomi is a strategic partner for us who invests because they are interested in integrating our technology into their mobile products,” explains Luca Verre. The Chinese manufacturer ranks third in the world in smartphone sales after Samsung and Apple.
“By the end of the year,” the fifth generation of its sensor will be announced, as well as a new strategic partnership. “That is the purpose of this fundraiser: to allow us to move forward on our sensor roadmap,” says Luca Verre.
The interest of the Prophesee sensor for smartphones is to reduce motion blur, especially in low light conditions (where the exposure time is longer). When combined with other traditional sensors, Prophesee technology will significantly reduce image blur.
Several manufacturers with capital are interested in Qualcomm
Improving image quality is a key element in the competitiveness of smartphone makers, and Luca Verre reports that other manufacturers have also invested in his company but did not wish to be named in order to maintain their competitive edge. Qualcomm, a key player in the market, is also interested and is already partnering with Prophesee. “Our mobile help system is based on the Qualcomm platform.”
Recall that the mobile device market today accounts for approximately 70% of the image sensor market and weighs from 12 to 14 billion dollars a year. Entering this market with high volumes will allow Prophesee to significantly increase its revenues, although Luca Verre notes that “we have already begun to generate turnover, we had strong growth last year and this year in the industry.”
The manager expects another growth peak in 2024 and 2025 thanks to new markets. The deadline is 2024 for the smartphone market and the end of 2024 for VR projects, “but we expect more significant adoption in 2025,” he clarifies.
Eye-tracking asset in VR headsets
In VR, Prophesee intends to make changes to sensors designed to track eye movements (gaze tracking). A feature that all major headset makers such as Meta and Sony PlayStation are now integrating into their products.
Its Metavision technology allows very high frequency (100 or 1000 Hz) monitoring at very low power consumption, making it an ideal candidate for this use. “Meta-researchers have published scientific papers using our technology demonstrating that they can reach 10,000 Hz,” emphasizes Luce Verre.
Prophesee now has about 110 engineers and continues to covertly recruit for key positions. In addition to the headquarters in Paris and premises in Grenoble, the startup opened an office in Shanghai, where 10 people work. It is also present in the US and Japan.
Julien Bergounhoux @JBergounhoux