Lithuania’s well-established and rapidly growing optics and photonics sector has been bolstered by the arrival of Tonbo Imaging, a company that develops advanced imaging and sensor systems for defense, security and intelligent transportation systems. The company, which is backed by Artiman Ventures, WRV Capital, Qualcomm Ventures and Edelweiss Private Equity, plans to establish a research and development team of over 50 specialists in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Tonbo Imaging was originally set up as a research-focused subsidiary of Sarnoff Corporation and Stanford Research International, before a management buyout to become an independent entity in 2008. The company employs about 170 engineers and it sells in 25 countries across 5 continents. The company has engineering development centers in Singapore, India and the US. These global operations will now be enhanced by the company’s new development facility in Kaunas.
Tonbo Imaging has been a pioneer in computational imaging and machine learning driven image acquisition. Tonbo’s technology combines fundamental innovations in the image acquisition process along with powerful computer vision algorithms to support superior imaging and scene interpretation for a wide range of applications. Tonbo leverages the computing power of consumer electronics hardware and economies of scale of contract manufacturing to build systems that outperform existing technology in size, weight, power and cost.
As Arvind Lakshmikumar, the founder and CEO of Tonbo Imaging explained, the company is highly selective when it comes to choosing new locations for its teams. “Our footprint is reflective of our commitment to finding markets that best suit technology development and product distribution”. “Lithuania was a natural choice for us given its reputation as a hub for optics research and technology, local talent and economic dynamism. This, combined with the Lithuanian government’s strong support for new initiatives made the country an ideal location.”
The Tonbo Group has strong confidence in the growth of the Lithuanian branch, and it will be investing upwards of €10 Million to enhance the local ecosystem. Growth plans include building an R&D facility, developing a local/EU-based supply chain, and training new colleagues in Lithuania. The company looks forward to establishing ties and focus on collaboration with the country’s laser technology cluster, Lithuanian universities, and relevant government bodies.
Tonbo Imaging will be tapping into Lithuania’s rich talent pool in photonics and optics, with the company looking to recruit experienced specialists in a range of technical fields. “We plan to hire over 50 people in the next two years with extensive research experience and core technical knowledge in Computer Vision, Machine Learning, Electronics, Mechatronics, and Optoelectronics. We are also looking at hiring sales and business development specialists to support our global business functions,” says the company’s CEO.
These specialists will be supporting Tonbo Imaging in its unique, asset-lean approach to developing mission-critical optics solutions in the fields of military reconnaissance, critical infrastructure security, and transportation safety. The company’s products are currently in use in the defense sector in a range of emerging economies, in the autonomous driving market in developed economies, and in hazardous industry applications such as mining.
The company’s arrival is another boon for Lithuania’s highly regarded photonics and optics sector. Dynamic, forward-thinking and with a wealth of expertise in fields such as laser nanophotonics, optical damage testing and nonlinear optics processes, the Baltic country is a natural fit for a company like Tonbo Imaging. And with its selective internship program and track record of working with governments, universities and public sector defense organisations, Tonbo Imaging will provide further impetus for this important sector.
“Local companies make up the core of the Lithuanian laser industry, and Foreign Direct Investment projects in this sphere are rather rare. Therefore, the decision of Tonbo Imaging to set up in Lithuania is, first of all, important to the development of the entire sector. Besides, it will provide additional impetus to the growing autonomous vehicle systems industry, which will rise to a prominent place in the country’s innovation economy by building on the knowledge base of the existing laser industry,” states Virginijus Sinkevičius, the country’s Minister of Economy.
According to Mantas Katinas, Managing Director of Invest Lithuania, the coming of such companies as Tonbo Imaging brings Lithuania one step closer to becoming a prime automotive destination.
“In the past couple of years, Lithuania’s automotive and transportation landscape has been expanding in multiple directions. In addition to major investments from German automotive giants Hella and Continental, and our very own data-driven transport scale-up Trafi, among many others, we will now also have a company developing solutions for self-driving cars. If there ever was a great time to be a Lithuanian engineer, it is now,” Mantas Katinas believes.
The company has witnessed an explosive growth over the last 5 years and counts a marquee roster of international customers as its clients. Tonbo’s imaging technology has helped “democratize night-vision” by making state of the art imaging and optics available to a wide range of emerging markets.
Tonbo’s products are in use by global militaries and Tier I defense manufacturers on programs spanning all aspects of land, air and sea surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting. The company has received recognition around the globe as a force to reckon with for electro-optics and has been widely covered by awards from CNBC, Frost & Sullivan, Global Entrepreneur, Business Standard and IEEE Consumer Electronics Society.
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