Swave Photonics Takes Top Prize at 2023 SPIE Startup Challenge

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Swave Photonics, a Silicon Valley-based developer of holographic extended reality (HXR) technology, earned the $10,000 top prize in the 2023 SPIE Startup Challenge. The annual competition, now in its 13th year, was held yesterday at SPIE Photonics West. Swave CEO Mike Noonen was among 10 finalists who delivered a company pitch to a panel of six industry judges.

Swave Photonics’ holographic chips are based on the company’s proprietary diffractive photonics technology. The company has developed a spatial light modulator designed explicitly for digital holography and centers its solution on phase change memory technology.

The technology is also highly scalable to very large pixel arrays — up to 64 gigapixels (GP). Swave manufactures its HXR chips using the standard CMOS process.

According to Noonen, the ability to deliver GP resolution, paired with CMOS economics, is poised to elevate existing augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications by eliminating the need for bulky goggles or head-worn devices.

“Our innovation is figuring out how to have a pixel pitch that scales to the needs of holography,” Noonen said. “We are taking a semiconductor view and applying it to a photonic element.”
Swave Photonics, represented by company CEO Mike Noonen (second from right) earned the $10,000 top prize in the 2023 SPIE Startup Challenge.
Swave Photonics, represented by company CEO Mike Noonen (second from right), earned the $10,000 top prize in the 2023 SPIE Startup Challenge.
Swave Photonics is a spinout of imec. The company plans to sample its first devices this year with initial product design expected in the next six months, Noonen said.

Of the 10 competition finalists, five pitched innovations in the technology areas of biophotonics or biomedicine. QART Medical, an Israeli startup that has developed an interferometry-aided imaging solution to enable the informative characterization and selection of sperm cells to improve the success rates of in vitro fertilization, finished as runner-up and took home a $5000 prize. Laser-based bioprinting technology company PhosPrint P.C. earned third place and a $2500 prize.

In addition to the competition, four companies engaged in early-stage fundraising — Scinvivo, Comptek Solutions, Scantinel Photonics, and Nicslab — presented their technologies to prospective investors prior to the finals.

The SPIE Startup Challenge is supported by founding partner Jenoptik; lead sponsors Edmund Optics, Hamamatsu, MKS Instruments, and Thorlabs; and supporting sponsors NextCorps Luminate and Photonics Media.

Published: February 2023
Holography is a technique used to capture and reconstruct three-dimensional images using the principles of interference and diffraction of light. Unlike conventional photography, which records only the intensity of light, holography records both the intensity and phase information of light waves scattered from an object. This allows the faithful reproduction of the object's three-dimensional structure, including its depth, shape, and texture. The process of holography typically involves the...
2023 SPIE Startup ChallengeSPIE Startup ChallengeholographyImagingBusinessAmericasSwave PhotonicsMike Noonenmanufacturingscalabilitypixelsdigital holographyIndustry News

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