Aeva snags VW investment with smaller, longer-range lidar

Lidar startup Aeva has deepened its relationship with VW Group with a new investment from Porsche Automobili Holding SE, thanks to a next-generation sensor that is headed for the ID Buzz AV, an electric reboot of the automaker’s iconic bus that will be used as autonomous taxis.

Aeva’s newest lidar product, called Aeries, has a 120-degree field-of-view — twice as much as its first product — and yet is half the size and uses less power. All of the components of the new lidar fit onto a single chip, an achievement that Aeva CEO Soroush Salehian said will cost $500 at scale, considerably cheaper than current sensors on the market.

The companies didn’t disclose the investment amount from Porsche SE, only describing it as “significant.” It’s worth noting that this is the only lidar company that Porsche SE, a majority voting shareholder of the Volkswagen Group, has made an investment in to date. And it’s the latest company within the VW Group to take notice in Aeva, a startup founded more than two years ago by veterans of Apple and Nikon.

The investment follows a deal announced in April by Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID. The unit, which falls under the VW Group, is using Aeva lidar sensors in a fleet of autonomous electric e-trons that were being tested in Munich.

Aeva has developed what it describes as “4D lidar” that can measure distance as well as instant velocity without losing range, all while preventing interference from the sun or other sensors.

Lidar, or light detection and ranging radar, measures distance. It’s considered by many as a critical and necessary sensor for autonomous vehicles. Traditional lidar sensors are able to determine distance by sending out high-power pulses of light outside the visible spectrum and then tracking how long it takes for each of those pulses to return. As they come back, the direction of, and distance to, whatever those pulses hit are recorded as a point and eventually forms a 3D map.

The Aeries lidar sensor meets the final production requirements for autonomous driving robotaxis and large volume customers working on advanced driver assistance systems, and will be available for use in development vehicles in the first half of 2020, the company said.

“It checks all the boxes and requirements in achieving high performance,” said Alex Hitzinger, senior vice president of autonomous driving at VW Group and CEO of VW Autonomy, an autonomous development unit created earlier this year.

Specifically, Hitzinger pointed to the lidar sensor’s high resolution, long range and small size.

“Also, Aeva’s lidar measures the velocity for every point, which is a big deal for perception software and helps to significantly simplify the tasks perception like object classification for critical objects such as pedestrians at far distances,” Hitzinger said in an email to TechCrunch, adding that it’s the best solution on the market.

Volkswagen is planning to launch an ID Buzz AV for robotaxi applications in 2022. The vehicle will be the base platform for the development of the automaker’s self-driving system that will enable VW Autonomy to scale AV technology across the VW Group brands of vehicles afterwards.