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Automotive Supplier Continental AG Invests in California Lidar Developer AEye

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【Summary】Automotive supplier Continental AG has made a minority investment in California-based lidar and computer vision developer AEye Inc. Continental will utilize AEye’s patented lidar technology to develop an automotive grade perception sensor for automated highway driving.

Eric Walz    Oct 28, 2020 11:45 AM PT
Automotive Supplier Continental AG Invests in California Lidar Developer AEye

One of the world's biggest automotive suppliers Continental AG has made a minority investment in California lidar and computer vision developer AEye Inc. Its another example of a major auto supplier investing in a tech startup to jumpstart the development of advanced technology for the world's automakers. 

The two companies did not disclose the amount of the investment, but they will work together to compete for contracts from automakers to equip future vehicles with lidar-based perception systems designed for automated highway driving.

AEye was founded in 2013 and headquartered in Dublin, California. The company is backed by leading investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Taiwania Capital, Hella Ventures, LG Electronics, Aisin, Intel Capital, Airbus Ventures, and others.

Most self-driving vehicles today rely on three primary technologies for navigation, which are cameras, lidar and radar.  While many companies are developing standalone lidar, cameras or radar units for the auto industry, AEye has developed a way to combine camera and lidar data together at the hardware level. 

The company's lidar technology is unique, as it combines computer vision technology with artificial intelligence to more closely mimic how a human eye focuses on objects. 

"The existing infrastructure for driving was built for the human visual cortex," said Allan Steinhardt, Chief Scientist at AEye. "As it relates to making cars smarter, we do not see it as a competition between cameras and LiDARs, but rather an opportunity to merge the strengths of both technologies to allow vehicles to visualize better than humans."

In addition to autonomous vehicles, AEye's perception system is designed to support today's advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), acting as an extra set of eyes for the driver.

AEye developed lidar technology that combines an amplifiable 1550nm wavelength laser with a patented feedback-controlled Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) scanner. The lidar system can be configured via software, so it's adaptable to meet the specific requirements of different automakers or individual vehicle models.

AEye was recently awarded 17 new patents for its technology, bringing its total number of granted patents to 32, with more pending. In June, AEye announced its latest solid state lidar unit called "4Sight"  that can be manufactured for low cost at scale.

The 4Sight lidar unit is the fifth-generation sensor from AEye. The software driven sensor incorporates a single laser, one MEMS, one receiver, and one SoC. The patented design of AEye's MEMS allows a mirror that is less than 1mm in size. 

The word "lidar" is an acronym for "light detection and ranging" and is considered an important part of any autonomous driving system. Lidar is used to create a 3D view of a vehicle's surroundings by bouncing a laser beam off objects. Measuring differences in return times and wavelengths in the lightwaves that's reflected back off objects is used to make a 3D representation of the road ahead and a vehicle's surroundings.

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Lidar is used to render a 3D representation of the road ahead for safer navigation.

AEye's lidar offers high performance for passenger and commercial vehicle applications because it combines high resolution with long-range detection. Vehicles can be detected at a distance of more than 300 meters and pedestrians at a distance of more than 200 meters. AEye's perception system even has the ability to detect objects as small as a brick at a distance of 160 meters. This extended range gives autonomous vehicle software more time to react to hazards.

Germany-based Continental has accumulated over 20 years of expertise in LiDAR sensors alone. Continental will utilize AEye's lidar technology and industrialize the sensor to deliver an automotive-grade product for automakers.

As one of the world's biggest auto suppliers, Continental also works with other companies on advanced perceptions systems for ADAS and autonomous vehicles. 

Last month, Continental and Silicon Valley chipmaker Xilinx Inc. announced the first production ready 4D radar for autonomous vehicles. The new advanced radar sensor from Continental is called the "ASR540" and it was built on the Xilinx Zynq UltraScale multiprocessor system on a chip (MPSoC).   

The first series production of a lidar system from Continental incorporating AEye's technology is scheduled for the end of 2024.

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