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One Silicon Chip Photonics and Thales partner on autonomous rail

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The Canada-based company says its optical inertial navigation system is 10 times more accurate than commercial-grade MEMS-based navigation devices, and can be used in a wide range of applications from drones and autonomous transport to agriculture and survey work

The market for commercial drones is growing dramatically – from an estimated $19.9 billion in 2022 to a projected $57 billion in 2030. Meanwhile, the autonomous vehicle (AV) market is projected to grow to more than $13 trillion by 2030. But one of the key challenges for drone and AV manufacturers continues to be finding higher-accuracy and lower-cost navigational sensors that are essential to enabling this growth.

Drones and AVs rely on sensor technology to navigate. Until recently, much of the technical work on AV navigation has focused on a blend of sensors that have critical limiting factors. Camera, radar, and LiDAR sensors are all limited by advancements in computer perception, with a huge need for redundancy due to environmental conditions – such as the risk of fog or dirt covering one or more sensors. Another technical challenge is that many types of drones and AVs must operate in demanding and/or hostile environments where GPS is denied and extreme accuracy is essential.

To address these challenges, One Silicon Chip Photonics (OSCP), a Montreal-based company, has developed an inertial optical system which it says matches the accuracy of navigational sensors used in the aerospace industry at a fraction of the cost. According to the company, because these chips do not have any moving parts, they are 10 times more accurate than commercial-grade micro-electro-mechanical systems inertial measurement units (MEMS IMUs) and they enable highly accurate navigation even when GPS signals are not available.

OSCP has partnered with French multinational company Thales, which is developing autonomous rail systems and has been testing OSCP's prototype in the field. Using sensors like OSCP's in rail transport will increase vehicle autonomy which – along with moving block signalling – has the potential to increase rail capacity by up to 50 percent and cut energy consumption by 15 percent, according to Thales.

In addition to rail transport and military applications, drones and AVs are also increasingly being used in agriculture, mining, mapping and survey work, as well as in trucking, delivery and other transport industries.

OSCP has recently secured $1.2 million in seed funding from 7percent Ventures and 2050 Capital, which it says will allow it to accelerate its growth. This funding supplements earlier grants to OSCP totalling $4.2 million. The company says that its technology’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in autonomous transport as compared with conventional technologies has been central to its funding.

“This $5.4 million in total funding will allow us to expand our sales and development team and expedite the commercialisation of our sensors,” said Kazem Zandi, OSCP's founder & CEO.

Harry Morgan of 7percent Ventures said: “The enabling technologies for AVs – sensors, chips, and other hardware – are often overlooked when it comes to investment and innovation. We believe that the technology that Kazem and OSCP have developed will be vital in facilitating and accelerating the rate at which autonomous systems, across transport and mobility, can realise their potential.”

Cornel Chiriac, founding partner of 2050 Capital, added: “The road to full autonomy requires fundamental innovation in navigation, not more sensors and workarounds. OSCP delivers a blend of precision, reliability, and cost-effectiveness in an integrated photonic chip. OSCP technology paves the way for mass adoption of autonomous systems and unlocks innovation across both existing enterprises and ambitious startups that need these crucial building blocks for their own visions of autonomy.”

One Silicon Chip Photonics and Thales partner on autonomous rail
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