There’s no shortage of startups vying for a slice of a lidar market that’s expected to be worth $3.5 billion by 2024, but Aeva stands out in several respects. In just over a year, it’s raised over $45 million in funding and attracted Canaan — an early investor in PrimeSense — as an investor. It counts among its founders former Nikon optical hardware designer Mina Rezk and Soroush Salehian, both of whom spent time at Apple’s Special Projects Group. And as of today, it has an automotive partner in Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), Audi’s wholly owned self-driving R&D subsidiary and the “center of excellence” for Volkswagen Group’s AV technologies.
As part of the strategic collaboration, Aeva will supply the sensing systems for AID’s new Audi e-tron test vehicles in Munich. “In this phase, it is important that we … work together with the best players in the market,” AID CTO Alexandre Haag said in a statement. “Aeva represents another important step in our goal to drive fully autonomously across urban areas within the next few years. [Its] … technology is a clear top choice for perception with its unique combination of long-range … measurements at [high] precision and robustness to interferences in a single package.”
Conventional lidar can only provide indirect velocity data; it rapidly beams individual pulses of laser light, producing frames milliseconds apart that occasionally omit nearby objects. By contrast, Aeva’s compact cuboid sensor sends out a continuous low-power laser embedded with a unique signature, based on light interference. That fundamental difference in technique confers not only a range, power consumption, and resolution advantage — 300 meters, under 100 watts, and down to the centimeters per second — but improved performance in inclement weather and with pedestrians and reflective objects like metal railings.
By detecting photons as they bounce of off objects, the sensor is able to perform velocity measurements without risking interference from other laser sensors and without compromising fidelity. And perhaps best of all, it knocks the per-sensor price tag down to a few hundred bucks. That’s about the going rate San Francisco startup Luminar says it’s targeting with its mechanical lidar system, which has a range of 250 meters, and it’s highly competitive with offerings from lidar incumbent Velodyne, which sells its top-shelf, 300-meter range unit for $75,000 and its most popular SKU — the 100-meter VLP-16 — for $4,000.
“From early on, it was crucial for us to work closely with a seasoned strategic partner that could help us showcase the impact of our 4D LiDAR’s differentiating features in unblocking the limitations of current perception solutions,” Rezk said. “Over the past year we’ve worked closely with AID & VW group engineering teams through a comprehensive validation process toward meeting the requirements of the next urban autonomous driving system.”
Despite Aeva’s technological advantages, it’s up against titans of industry like Israeli startup Innoviz Technologies, which raised $132 million in March for its lidar tech, as well as Oryx, Ouster, and TetraVue. Luminar recently announced a strategic partnership with Volvo, and in January, lidar startup Baraja raised $32 million for its innovative prism-like optics design. (That’s not to mention far-infrared pioneer AdaSky and ground-penetrating radar startup WaveSense.) Waymo, yet another recent segment entrant, last month announced it would begin selling its proprietary near-range, 360-degree lidar design — Laser Bear Honeycomb –to “dozens” of customers in the coming weeks to months.
But Rezk and Salehian are betting this will be the first of many partnerships. Last October, Lux Capital partner Shahin Farshchi — an Aeva investor — revealed that early customers include “key” automotive and ride-sharing companies that represent “many millions” of units a year.