Sensor Startups Getting Hot

Two venture-backed startups that build infrared sensor devices received funding last week in nearly simultaneous $4 million fundings.

Irisys, based in the United Kingdom, announced its $4.3 million Series D round with money from U.K.-based PiCapital, bringing its total raised to date to over $12 million.

Ion Optics of Waltham, Mass., announced a $4 million Series C round with funds from Digital Power Capital and Ardesta LLC, brining the total raised to date by the company to over $6.5 million.

Irisys provides low-cost infrared sensor applications for surveillance, such as people counting.

Ion Optics targets higher-cost applications, where its MEMS based semiconductor sensor is used in the monitoring of gases for hospitals, schools, commercial buildings and industrial plants.

These startups demonstrate the great breadth of the $1 billion global commercial and mixed-use infrared market, says Gabor Fulop, publisher of Infrared Imaging News.

“There is an even larger and unreported market for exclusively military applications of infrared sensing,” he says.

Infrared sensing startups have received more scrutiny since VC-backed Indigo Systems, funded primarily by Carlyle Ventures, was sold for $200 million to Portland, Ore.-based Flir Systems (Nasdaq: FLIR), the dominant public company in the sector.

David Giampaolo, CEO of PiCapital, says that Irisys, which has been in stealth mode during the last three years, now finds itself facing a wealth of money and lots of interest in its products for use in shopping malls and retail outlets. He believes the company will be an important pioneer in the application of people counting and security.

At Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Rockwell Scientific, Kadri Vural, vice president of the imaging division, says that infrared and sensing offers an array of market opportunities. Rockwell, for example, targets the highest-end applications, such as infrared sensors for satellites.

But Vural says that there is an additional market for hundreds of millions of sensors at the component level, suggesting that Irisys and Ion Optics, like Indigo Systems before them, are in the right place at the right time.