Australian researchers shape the future of photonic sensing with spin-off company Vai Photonics
In 2021, Australian researchers Lyle Roberts and James Spollard, from The Australian National University (ANU), co-founded Vai Photonics: a spin-off company developing patented photonic sensors for precision navigation. The ARC Centres of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) and Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) played key roles in kickstarting Vai Photonics by providing seed funding towards fundamental LiDAR research, which translated to real-world, industry applications. Now, Advanced Navigation, one of the world’s most ambitious innovators in AI robotics and navigation technology, has announced the acquisition of Vai Photonics with aims to commercialise Roberts and Spollard’s research into exciting autonomous and robotic applications across land, air, sea and space.
“The technology Vai Photonics is developing will be of huge importance to the emerging autonomy revolution. The synergies, shared vision and collaborative potential we see between Vai Photonics and Advanced Navigation will enable us to be at the absolute forefront of robotic and autonomy-driven technologies,” said Xavier Orr, CEO and co-founder of Advanced Navigation.
Vai Photonics co-founder James Spollard explained: “Precision navigation when GPS is unavailable or unreliable is a major challenge in the development of autonomous systems. Our emerging photonic sensing technology will enable positioning and navigation that is orders of magnitude more stable and precise than existing solutions in these environments.
“By combining laser interferometry and electro-optics with advanced signal processing algorithms and real-time software, we can measure how fast a vehicle is moving in three dimensions,” said Spollard. “As a result, we can accurately measure how the vehicle is moving through the environment, and from this infer where the vehicle is located with great precision.”
The technology, which has been in development for over 15 years at ANU, will solve complex autonomy challenges across aerospace, automotive, weather and space exploration, as well as railways and logistics.
EQUS Director Professor Andrew White applauded the initiative and determination shown by Lyle and James. “Lyle and James are perfect examples of researchers achieving useful outcomes by utilising the funds, mentoring, and guidance available through EQUS’s Translation Research Program, to help pursue the real-world impacts that our research can deliver. These two are what Australia’s research future looks like,” said White.
OzGrav Director Professor Matthew Bailes said he was thrilled to see such a positive outcome for our early career researchers that were supported by OzGrav's industry seeding scheme and workshops. "It reinforces the fact that pushing the limits of instrumentation for scientific purposes can often create opportunities for Australian innovators and industry," said Bailes.
Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University said: “Vai Photonics is another great ANU example of how you take fundamental research – the type of thinking that pushes the boundaries of what we know – and turn it into products and technologies that power our lives.
“The work that underpins Vai Photonics’ advanced autonomous navigation systems stems from the search for elusive gravitational waves – ripples in space and time caused by massive cosmic events like black holes colliding.
“The team have built on a decade of research and development across advanced and ultra-precise laser measurements, digital signals and quantum optics to build their innovative navigation technology. We are proud to have backed Vai Photonics through our Centre for Gravitational Astrophysics and business and commercialisation office. It’s really exciting to see the team take another major step in their incredible journey.”
Co-founder Dr Lyle Roberts looks forward to an autonomous future: “This is a huge win for the Vai Photonics team – together with Advanced Navigation we are able to bring our product to market much faster than originally planned. We now have access to leading research and development facilities along with strong distribution channels. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome and look forward to navigating the future with Advanced Navigation.”
This acquisition fits into Advanced Navigation’s larger growth strategy to expand its product and solutions portfolio across deep technology fields that look to solve the world’s greatest challenges facing the autonomy revolution.
The acquisition was finalised in April 2022, subject to typical closing conditions. The Vai Photonics team has been integrated into Advanced Navigation’s research and development team, based out of the new Canberra research facility.
This article is an amended extract from the original article written by Laura Hayward published on www.advancednavigation.com
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