Google Quietly Operating Sensor Startup Following Stealthy Buyout

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has acquired a San Diego startup that invented new sensor technology for precisely tracking changes in direction, according to two industry experts who would only discuss the deal anonymously.

The Mountain View, CA-based technology giant agreed to buy Lumedyne Technologies in November for about $85 million, one expert said, just months after Lumedyne demonstrated a working prototype of its innovative accelerometer technology.

The sensor is presumably intended for use in smart phones and robotics, but it could have broad applications in navigation. For example, Lumedyne’s CEO gave a talk on the future of motion sensors in the automotive industry at the 2013 Automotive Sensors and Electronics Expo in Detroit.

Lumedyne’s technology offers a big advantage over conventional accelerometers because so far it has been far more precise—showing little “drift” from a device’s actual location, another expert said.

“One of the big problems with accelerometers today is that once you walk into a building and lose GPS, the accelerometer starts to drift,” the source said. “It’s designed to track your location by measuring your direction and turns, but you might end up on one side of a building and it thinks you’re on the opposite side. By the end of the day you could be off by hundreds of meters or even miles.”

While conventional accelerometers are relatively inexpensive, the cost of manufacturing Lumedyne’s sensor would be substantially lower, and it draws less power, which would extend battery life, the source said.

Google has not disclosed the Lumedyne buyout, however, and media representatives at the technology giant’s corporate headquarters did not respond to several e-mail inquiries sent yesterday, or to a request left on Google’s media hotline. The Lumedyne deal also does not appear on Wikipedia’s informal list of Google mergers and acquisitions.

Nevertheless, there’s been a lot of curiosity about the stealthy deal.

If you use the search terms “Google” and “Lumedyne Technologies” in a Google search, one of the first results to appear is a question on Quora that reads: “What does Google intend to do with its acquisition of Lumedyne Technologies? Is it intended for the ATAP [Advanced Technologies and Projects] group?”

No one has answered the question, but it has been viewed 2,542 times, and 23 individuals have registered to get the answer once one is available.

Lumedyne CEO Brad Chisum declined to comment by phone yesterday, saying, “The acquirer of Lumedyne is not public and has not been disclosed.”

However, Chisum publicly acknowledged last week that Lumedyne had been acquired during a breakfast meeting of the San Diego Venture Group. He told the group that Lumedyne had received buyout interest from several big companies. Chisum said he also had insisted that the company remain in San Diego, and had made that a condition of Lumedyne’s M&A negotiations.

Google does not have a San Diego facility, but operates buses that transport San Diego-based employees to and from Google’s Orange County offices in Irvine, CA, about 85 miles north of downtown San Diego, according to Sean Barr, vice president of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

Chisum co-founded Lumedyne as Omega Sensors in 2006 with CTO Richard Waters. The two initially focused on developing their sensor for measuring seismic tests used to detect underground oil and gas deposits. The company said its AcXel technology had higher sensitivity and improved signal-to-noise ratio over conventional seismometers.

Lumedyne successfully raised early funding from venture investors, and Chisum was named as a San Diego finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program in both 2010 and 2011. The company also formed a strategic partnership in 2013 with Taiwan’s LiteOn Semiconductor to bring its sensor to market in consumer electronics.

The Lumedyne technology is based on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology licensed from a U.S. Navy R&D lab operated in San Diego by SPAWAR, the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Command. As a major defense procurement agency, SPAWAR provides the hardware and software for IT and communications networks that connect the Navy’s sea, air, land, and cyber-based forces.

Chisum and Waters developed the sensor technology while working on advanced integrated circuits and sensors at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, a Navy research facility on Point Loma. Chisum has extensive experience in photolithography and Waters was the fabrication manager of the Integrated Circuit Fabrication Facility, the Navy’s principal site for designing, developing, and fabricating military chips for use in space.

A 2014 study on SPAWAR’s economic impact in San Diego highlighted Lumedyne as one of the most successful startups to come out of the Navy lab, saying the company had raised more than $18 million in investment capital and had more than 20 employees.

Today, Lumedyne says on its website that its Time Domain Switched (TDS) sensor technology will “revolutionize the sensor industry” by displacing conventional accelerometers used in solid-state gyroscopes for tracking and navigation.

The report on SPAWAR’s economic impact, done last year by the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute at San Diego’s Point Loma Nazarene University, said the Navy’s Point Loma lab generates more patents each year than any other U.S. warfare center lab.

The San Diego Military Advisory Council commissioned the study “to explore, explain, and analyze SPAWAR as one of the most critical drivers of the nation’s security and innovation, and to show its impact on San Diego.”

According to the study, about half of SPAWAR’s 9,700 military and civilian employees work in San Diego, and in fiscal 2013, SPAWAR awarded about $6.6 billion through development contracts with private industry, including $1.1 billion to firms operating in San Diego.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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2 responses to “Google Quietly Operating Sensor Startup Following Stealthy Buyout”

  1. Jeff Pesek says:

    Good write, it’s always interesting to read about developments that companies are trying to keep quiet…

  2. Mark BowlesMark Bowles says:

    Brad is a stud!