Oculi’s Smart Sensors Earn Top Prize at Luminate 2023

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Oculi, developer of a smart, programmable vision sensor, took home $1 million in follow-on funding and Company of the Year honors as the winner of Luminate’s sixth cohort. Awardees, including a three-way tie for the Distinguished Graduate Award, were named Sept. 27 during the Luminate 2023 finals, held at The Theater at Innovation Square in Rochester.

Oculi, a spinout of Johns Hopkins University, is developing smart programmable vision sensors based on the company’s Real-Time Vision Intelligence developed by founder and CEO Charbel Rizk at Johns Hopkins. The OCULI SPU (Sensing and Processing Unit) is an integrated sensing and processing module designed to mimic the human eye in selectively delivering information to make computer vision faster and more efficient.
Oculi CEO Chardel Rizk accepts the $1 million prize for Company of the Year at the Luminate Finals 2023. Courtesy of Shannon Wojcik.
Oculi CEO Charbel Rizk accepts the $1 million prize for Company of the Year at the Luminate 2023 finals. Courtesy of Sue Zeccola Photography. 

“As humans, we interact a lot visually, and we’re trying to move that level of intelligence to products and machines,” Rizk told Photonics Media.

The sensor performs tasks at the pixel level and at the edge to tune out extraneous information, thereby reducing the amount of data to be stored and analyzed, and in turn, latency and power requirements.

Rizk accepted the $1 million award, which he said will be used to help the Baltimore-based Oculi establish a presence in Rochester, as well as continue work on creating production-ready devices. Oculi currently has working prototypes, which in the near term will be prepared for high-volume production.

Oculi will initially target display platforms including digital signage, monitors, TVs, and eventually laptops and appliances, Rizk said.

The company established a strategic partnership with GlobalFoundries earlier this year.

Luminate finalists compete for a total of $2 million in follow-on funding, the $1 million investment to the winning team and other investments that total an additional $1 million. All winners of the competition will establish operations in the region for at least the next 18 months following the close of the cohort.

“This cohort did a good job of looking at issues in integrated photonics, semiconductor processing, fab-level issues, and both helping system manufacturing processes as well as utilizing different types of fab processes,” said Luminate NY managing director Sujatha Ramanujan.

Digiteyez, developer of a digital prescription eye care platform, received the $400,000 Outstanding Graduate Award. Quantune Technologies, developer of a chip-size laser spectrometer for the mid-infrared spectral range; NanoPattern Technologies, which is commercializing a patented chemistry and ink that enables display manufacturers to make more sustainable high-resolution screens; and Swave Photonics, developer of spatial light modulator for true digital holography, were each awarded $200,000 in a three-way tie for the Distinguished Graduate Award, with each company receiving a check for $200,000. Photonect Interconnect Solutions, developer of a laser adhesion technique to attach optical fibers to photonic chips, received the $50,000 Honorable Achievement Award, and QART Medical, which is applying an optical interferometry approach to enable better informed sperm selection in assisted reproductive procedures, took home the $10,000 Audience Choice Award.
Winners of the Luminate 2023 Finals: Photonect Interconnect Solutions, Quantune Technologies, Oculi, Digiteyez, NanoPattern Technologies. Courtesy of Shannon Wojcik.
Winners of the Luminate 2023 finals: Photonect Interconnect Solutions, Quantune Technologies, Oculi, Digiteyez, and NanoPattern Technologies. Courtesy of Sue Zeccola Photography.

Cohort 6 consisted of 12 startups, including Archangel Imaging and Labby, which took part in Luminate out of the finalist structure to gain access to regional resources. Archangel, the 2022 Grand Prize winner of the Genius NY competition, deploys smart machines alongside people to protect valuable remote assets and at-risk staff. Labby, a $250,000 winner at the 2022 Grow NY competition, provides dairy farms with rapid, accurate, and affordable solutions that leverage AI-enabled optical sensing for raw milk testing in less than a minute.

The accelerator received 120 applications for consideration. One-third of the applications came from outside of the U.S., Luminate said.

According to Ramanujan, as the competition has progressed, so too have the companies. “I think that the state of the companies and the nature of the companies that we’re seeing are becoming increasingly mature, and there seems to be more diversity in the application space,” she said.

Funding for the $25 million Luminate Accelerator program, which was created and run by NextCorps, is provided through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
Since its inception, Luminate has invested $17 million in more than 50 startups. The companies in the portfolio now share a net worth of more than $650 million.

Published: September 2023
machine vision
Interpretation of an image of an object or scene through the use of optical noncontact sensing mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining information and/or controlling machines or processes.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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