EQUS researchers prepped to navigate the future with Advanced Navigation

EQUS start-up Vai Photonics has been acquired by Advanced Navigation in a deal worth up to $40 million.

Dr Lyle Roberts and James Spollard—co-founders of Vai Photonics—are looking forward to working with Advanced Navigation to commercialise their photonics-based navigation technology.

“It’s a huge win for us—together with Advanced Navigation, we’re able to bring our product to market much faster than originally planned,” Dr Roberts said.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome, and the support we’ve received from ANU, EQUS and OzGrav has been fundamental to getting us to where we are now.”

EQUS’ Translational Research Program provided targeted support in the form of a Translation Fellowship to Dr Roberts, allowing him to focus on research translation full-time.

“We were fortunate to receive early backing in the form of seed funding from EQUS and OzGrav, which allowed us to develop prototypes and conduct regular field tests” Dr Roberts said.

“More than anything, EQUS and OzGrav provided support and encouragement to translate our research into a commercial product.

“While funding is integral, the incredible culture and mentorship inspired and motivated our research to become what it is today.

“I can confidently say that without the support of not only one, but two ARC Centres of Excellence, we would most likely not have been able to arrive at this outcome.”

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’ Translation Research Program, to help pursue the real-world impacts that our research can deliver,” he said.

“These two are what Australia’s research future looks like.”

OzGrav Director Professor Matthew Bailes said he was thrilled to see such a positive outcome for 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,” he said.

Vai Photonics uses light detection and ranging technology known as Doppler LIDAR.

Mr Spollard said that by combining laser interferometry and electro-optics with advanced signal-processing algorithms and real-time software, they can measure how far away an object, such as a vehicle, is and how fast it’s moving.

“As a result, we can accurately measure how the object is moving through the environment, and from this infer its location with great precision,” he said.

“The development of this technology started more than 15 years ago at the Australian National University, sparked largely by the Centre for Gravitational Astrophysics’ gravitational-wave research.

“We achieved a significant breakthrough in 2020 when we made several technical discoveries while I was working on my PhD research.

“At the same time, we were aware of the ongoing challenge of navigating vehicles without GPS.

“Understanding this challenge made it evident the combination of technologies we were developing could be a compelling solution.

“This was an exciting moment for us because we understood the wide range of benefits our technology would introduce and how we would commercialise our research.

The team’s technology has enormous potential across a diverse range of land, air and space applications.

“We’re currently in discussion with NASA to integrate our technology onto future space vehicles, which would assist in autonomous take-off and landing,” Dr Roberts said.

“We also look forward to opening a state-of-the-art Canberra research and development lab, allowing us to keep in touch with the incredibly talented team at ANU, EQUS and OzGrav.”

Major funding support

Australian Research Council

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present.