TDK Ventures bets on laser diodes as lighting’s future

Feb. 4, 2020
The Silicon Valley investment firm, a subsidiary of TDK Corp., backs SLD Laser, co-founded by LED legend Shuji Nakamura who is now on a laser push.

Investment firm TDK Ventures expressed its confidence in laser technology as the future of illumination and smart lighting, placing part of a $50 million fund in SLD Laser, the California company co-founded by Nobel Prize winning LED legend Shuji Nakamura.

Laser lighting developers such as SLD believe that laser diodes will replace LEDs as the light source of the future. Santa Barbara-based SLD claims that lasers can ultimately deliver 100 times the luminance of LEDs, occupy 1/10 the space, and deliver 10 times the range. They also say that lasers are superior to LEDs for various “beyond lighting” applications, such as Li-Fi data communications and lidar, among others.

That makes sense to TDK Ventures, the San Jose, CA-based venture firm established in July of last year as a subsidiary of Japan’s TDK Corp., known for storage media and electronic components.

“We are very impressed by their team and their ambitious roadmap of a wide spectrum of applications around the future of light,” said TDK Ventures managing director Nicolas Sauvage.

“Their recently released products are more than ten times brighter than today’s LED lights, capable of illuminating objects 1 km away while using less power than traditional technology,” a TDK spokesperson added. “Their Beyond Lighting technology combines dynamic illumination with high-resolution sensing and ultrahigh-speed Li-Fi communication.”

Neither TDK nor SLD would reveal the size of the investment or the equity share involved in the transaction.

SLD lasers are used in flashlights and car headlights, and in other products including entertainment systems, biomedical instrumentation, industrial imaging, and material processing.

Co-founder Nakamura is known for his work in LED technology, having shared the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics with two other scientists, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano for their work on blue LEDs, which helped usher in LEDs in as general illumination light sources.

He also co-founded the violet LED company Soraa, from which SLD was spun out in 2013.

TDK Ventures' parent firm, TDK Corp., is involved in the LED industry, where it makes power inductors for LED drivers in the automotive market.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

Editor’s note: SLD Laser’s Paul Rudy will elaborate on the future of lasers in the solid-state lighting (SSL) market, with particular attention to sensing and Li-Fi, at the upcoming Strategies in Light conference. Make your plans to join us from Feb. 11-13, 2020 in San Diego, CA.