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UPhoton, the Diffraction Solution Provider, Announces Series B Financing
COVID-19 and China
Photot: Jeff and PJ on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

On January 2nd, 2019, UPhoton (namely, UPoton, 驭光科技) announced its series B financing total at USD 14.7 million led by THC Ventures (清控银杏) and followed by Cathay Fund (凯辉基金), TusStar (启迪之星), Lenovo Ventures and Zhongguancun Qihang Fund (中关村启航基金). Previous investors, Baidu Ventures and Shunwei Capital, also participated in the financing. This new round follows a USD 10 million series A financing in November 2017 led by Baidu Ventures and Shunwei Capital.

UPhoton is a company providing diffraction optical solutions. The founder TIAN Kehan (田克汉) himself is a scientist and expert in diffractive optics. Before establishing UPhoton, he had worked for IBM for over 8 years as the scientist and master inventor in optics. Graduated from Tsinghua University with a master’s degree in optics, Tian Kehan went to MIT for further study in optics; after graduation and 8-year work in IBM, he came back China and founded UPhoton.

The professionality of the founding team determines the tech-savvy style of the company. It is worth mentioning that the lead of series B financing, THC Ventures, comprises a team from Tsinghua Holdings, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tsinghua University. With founder’s Tsinghua education background, it seems more understandable the lead of series B is also a Tsinghua-background investor.

Back to UPhoton, the company could provide diffractive optics and nanophotonics’ solution including design, manufacturing, and application, but its main area is 3D sensing, which is commonly used in smartphones for face recognition. Face recognition becomes public-known because of iPhone X’s release. The function of iPhone X is backed up by 3D-sensing tech developed by Primesense, which was purchased by Apple Inc. in 2013. UPhoton’s products contain both the hardware and the software, and hence is able to provide complete solutions in diffractive optics: it is not only professional in dealing with computational diffraction, but also in developing chip and DOE (Diffraction Optical Element).

Computational diffraction part solves afterward optical problems when images have been caught, and corrects caught images to make them more accurate, closer to real and contain more useful information. UPhoton has its unique algorithms in image processing accounting to its team’s in-depth understanding of optics. As for the hardware part, DOE is widely used in beam shaping, beam splitting, correct aberration, and others. Comparing to the afterward skills like image processing, DOE is more than a method to process the image accuracy in forming the image. DOE lens can adjust lights when through its unique structure and design to control the final image that satisfies viewers’ need.

General lens and Fresnel Lenses. Picture: FU Yingwei for EqualOcean

Major DOE providers are CDA(Germany), Holoeye(Germany), Silios(France) and some others, but seldom produce DOE for smartphone application. Hence, UPhoton found itself a comparatively ideal market to startup with and now it can mass produce micro-nano DOE for smartphones and alike devices. According to its CEO, UPhoton has provided DOE for domestic cellphone producers in their flagship product line, and expected to recognize CNY 100 million revenue in 2019.

The demand for image processing is urged by the development of IoT (Internet of Things). The smart driving requires better image processing solutions to aid central decision making; the public security system demands more accurate face recognition for population management; the entertainment electronics like VR devices want enhanced image solutions to offer better user experience. Comparing to abroad DOE producers, UPoton is ahead of them in smart devices’ application and based on this strategy, The company might have the chance to grow and enter the field that the above-mentioned DOE players are in.

In China, DOE is mainly an import-predominated field since the high entrance bar and lag-behind starting time. UPoton as a startup that has a market value at USD 5 billion within 3 years, may grow to be a unicorn in near future. As a tech company offering essential and supportive technologies, Uphoton’s every breakthrough can bring vertical improvements in related industries. According to its official website, UPhoton has more than 100 employees and 80% are scientists and engineers. Even though it expects CNY 100 million revenue in 2019, the heavy tech-oriented team structure might define UPhoton with a heavy R&D character instead of a business image. However, like the chip in PC, diffraction solution is a must-have for IoT that based on vision. For instance, Whether the automotive driving can be finally installed and commercialized, the vision solution is needed throughout the product life. Put in other words, what UPhoton doing is at an upper position in the verticals as it is the essential need for most, and commercialization probably is the least to be worried comparing to the lower-end in the industry. The Series B financing will be used in mass production, R&D and enlarging team size. Hopefully, we could see more applications of UPhoton’s 3D sensing techs landed and become a competitive player in the global market.

ANALYST
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