Rockley raises a further $65M

Silicon photonics systems specialist Rockley Photonics has raised a further $65 million in funds from new and existing backers to accelerate its development of optical sensing units targeting the global healthcare market.

The bulk of the money raised came from follow-on investor Morningside Ventures, whose financial investment supervisor said the group believes that silicon photonics is “at a tipping point.”

The latest round of financing brings the total raised by Rockley (Oxford, UK, and Pasadena, Calif.) to $290 million. It raised $50 million in a previous round that closed last August.

Rockley was founded in 2013 by Andrew Rickman, a serial  entrepreneur in the sector who back in 1988 founded Bookham Technology, which rose exponentially on the London stock market in the early 1990s before being acquired by Oclaro, and is now a part of optical components group Lumentum.

He also was a major player at Kotura, which was bought in 2013 by Israeli-US networking company Mellanox Technologies for its expertise in 100G photonic ICs.

Rickman asserts that Rockley’s “third generation” silicon photonics platform is quite different from what rival firms are offering. The main differentiator, he says, is that the process is engineered from the ground-up and optimized for photonics and electronics, while most companies rely on the long-established process of integrating photonics structures with CMOS on a semiconductor chip.

He adds the devices are ideally suited to serve the needs of the fast-growing digital health market. The company says it is focusing on a new class of non-invasive sensors for the sector with its technology that enables personalized monitoring of a much larger set of physical and chemical biomarkers than those currently available.

The products are also targeting suppliers of optical fiber and data center communications transceivers.

Indeed it has a joint venture with Chinese fiber optics group Hengtong Optic-Electric, which is making 400G transceiver modules using Rockley’s technology. The venture also gives the company a foot in the important Chinese market.

And last year, the company was one of the few to show up at the Optical Fibre Communications conference (OFC 2020), to demonstrate a 25.6Tbps optics platform. The company also outlined details of collaboration with Molex, Accton and TE Connectivity to develop a 25.6Tbps Opto Asic switch system using its LightDriver optical engine.

Commenting on the latest fundraising, Rickman stressed there is “tremendous need for technologies that can enable effective digital health and wellness” and that the additional resources for the company “to dramatically increase its item offerings, particularly our integrated optical sensor products.”

He added many of Rockley’s Tier-1 customers are developing ‘ingenious’ data-driven designs that will be using the company’s technology.

French market research and intelligence group Yole Developpement forecast late last year the market for silicon photonics transceivers will be worth $3.6 billion by 2025, up from about $800 million as of last year.

Of course there are some significant, well-established players in the sector, such as Cisco, Mellanox, Intel, Neophotonics and Macom.