UPDATED 05:00 EST / FEBRUARY 13 2024


Intel backs $40M+ round for miniature actuator startup Cambridge Mechatronics

Cambridge Mechatronics Ltd., a British company that makes miniature actuators for smartphone cameras, today announced that it has raised more than $40 million in fresh funding. 

Atlantic Bridge led the investment. It was joined by the venture capital arms of Intel Corp. and Sony Corp., as well as France-based venture capital firm Supernova Invest. Cambridge Mechatronics will use the new funds for product development. 

Modern smartphone cameras ship with a built-in actuator, a motor-like device that can mechanically change the position of the camera’s lens. The actuator is controlled by a dedicated chip that runs specialized motion management software. Cambridge Mechatronics sells actuators, along with accompanying chips and software, that it says can provide more force than competing hardware while taking up less space.

Device makers use actuators to power their smartphone cameras’ autofocus capability. This capability, which is available in most modern handsets, focuses the camera on an object specified by the user. If the object moves, the actuator can automatically adjust the position of the lens to follow it.

A smartphone camera’s actuator is also responsible for powering its optical image stabilization feature. Sudden movements, such as those that happen when the hand holding a handset shakes, cause a blurring effect in photos. A smartphone with an optical image stabilization feature can use the built-in actuator to offset the impact of those movements and thus avoid reductions in image quality.

Traditional camera actuators are based on a design known as the voice coil motor, or VCM, architecture. They generate force by using magnets to move a tiny metal coil. The motion of the coil, in turn, moves the camera to which the VCM actuator is attached.

Cambridge Mechatronics has taken a different approach. The company’s actuators are based not on magnets but rather shape memory alloy, a type of metal that can easily change its shape at room temperatures. Moreover, an actuator made of such metal reverts to its original configuration when it’s exposed to heat. These changes in shape create motion that can be used to move a smartphone camera.

Because Cambridge Mechatronics’ actuators don’t include magnets, they don’t generate electromagnetic interference. That can help improve the reliability of a smartphone’s camera and other internal components. 

Cambridge Mechatronics says that its technology provides other benefits as well. The company’s actuators, which are about the size of a human hair, take up less space than competing hardware and thereby allow handset makers to design more compact handsets. Furthermore, it claims, its actuators can generate up to ten times the force of comparable devices from rival manufacturers.

The company will use its newly announced funding round to expand its product portfolio. The development effort will focus on applying its actuator technology to new use cases beyond the mobile industry. It believes its actuators could be used to power medicine delivery devices, virtual reality handsets’ built-in cameras and a range of other systems. 

Photo: Cambridge Mechatronics

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