Millilab eyes global smart vehicle sensor opportunities with proprietary algorithm

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Passive infrared (PIR) sensors have been around for years and are widely used in various devices including smart lamps, automotive radar, and monitoring systems.

They are instrumental and indispensable to the modern world. However, their lower sensitivity and smaller range also limit the capability of the smart devices that use PIR sensors.

Millimeter wave (mmWave) radar sensors that are widely used in smart cars are now getting increasingly adopted in smart devices including monitoring and smart cockpit systems after manufacturers started to provide non-automotive mmWave radar chips a few years ago at more economical pricing. Millilab, with a robust R&D capability and technological strength, wowed visitors at CES 2023. It has engaged in close partnerships with multiple international monitoring system suppliers. Having raised NT$50 million in March 2024, Millilab is poised to capture the immense opportunities in the global smart vehicle market.

According to Millilab's founder and CEO - Bibben Lin, mmWaves are shorter in wavelengths. Sensors based on mmWave radar technology provide higher resolution and accuracy so they are embraced by smart cars with high safety standards.

Infineon used to dominate the mmWave radar chip market, making them expensive and hardly used in monitoring systems sold at lower prices compared to smart cars. When Texas Instruments (TI) introduced low-cost mmWave radar chips, it spurred a rapid increase in mmWave radar sensor adoptions in non-automotive applications. Today, almost all mid-range and high-end monitoring systems priced at US$200 or higher use mmWave radar sensors.

Recognized by Japan-based Socionext, Millilab targets the global market with technological strength

Eyeing mmWave radar sensors' high accuracy and high-resolution characteristics and the opportunities arising from decreasing costs, Lin with abundant experience in developing communication devices decided to found Millilab with his business partners in 2019. Millilab's mmWave radar solutions are being used in monitoring systems for infants and seniors, child presence detection (CPD) systems, and driver monitoring systems (DMS).

When the company was first founded, the Millilab team focused on developing algorithms based on TI mmWave radar sensors for a variety of applications. Millilab's robust R&D capability soon caught the attention of Socionext, a Japan-based mmWave radar chip supplier.

Each boasting unique technologies in their own field, the two companies decided to join forces and have together developed total solutions and reference designs for a diversity of application scenarios that are embraced by customers across different sectors. Millilab has become one of the most trusted partners of Socionext and now independently develops algorithms based on Socionext chips. It is also the company that many global brands turn to for mmWave radar solutions.

Lin noted that during the company's early development, the competition was fierce in the automotive mmWave radar sensor market. European and American brands dominated 80% to 90% of the market and the rest was divided between two China-based vendors.

In comparison, at that time almost every monitoring system was based on the PIR technology. This presented tremendous opportunities for Millilab. Not only did Millilab become Socionext's partner for its R&D strength but it also secured a deal with Europe's largest car seat brand Maxi-Cosi to jointly develop a crib (baby) monitoring system. The result impressed Maxi-Cosi and more importantly, gave Millilab global visibility.

Millilab and partners expand into the smart cockpit market with authorities mandating CPD starting 2025

With the assistance from TTA and flyingVest Ventures, Millilab attended CES in 2023 and 2024 as well as London Tech Week in the U.K. and VivaTech in France. The participation at these events helped Millilab reach customers from different corners of the world.

For example, a Europe-based automatic door manufacturer was impressed by Millilab's algorithm and therefore plans to collaborate with the company. Multiple Asia-based corporations have also engaged in partnerships with Millilab to provide mmWave radar solutions for their products targeting overseas markets. These projects significantly fueled Millilab's revenue growth.

Going forward, Millilab will undertake a three-way strategy, said Lin. First, it will continue to attend tech exhibitions and work with TTA and flyingVest Ventures to increase its global visibility. Second, to win more customers across different sectors, Millilab plans to implement the algorithm developed for Socionext chips on TI chips, ensuring the same level of performance and reliability. Last, the EU mandating CPD starting in 2025 is set to spur the demand for CPD systems so Millilab will work with partners to capture preemptive opportunities in this market segment.

On average, about 40 children die each year in Europe after being left alone in a car. To address this problem, Euro NCAP will award safety rating points for CPD in new passenger vehicle designs from 2025.

In response, manufacturers are actively developing smart cockpit solutions. This presents a great opportunity for Millilab, boasting strong algorithm R&D capability, to penetrate the market segment. It plans to introduce a standard smart cockpit solution in April 2024 for automakers' PoC testing, followed by customized designs according to their requirements. Millilab expects this to contribute to strong revenue growth in the coming years.

(Editor's note: The original article was published in TTA Magazine Issue 14. Read more startup stories in TTA Magazines.)

Millilab founder and CEO Bibben Lin

Millilab founder and CEO Bibben Lin
Photo: Millilab

Schematic diagram of Millilab's CPD system

Schematic diagram of Millilab's CPD system
Photo: Millilab