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Sense Photonics lands $26M venture round

12 Jun 2019

Durham, North Carolina, startup joins the stampede chasing emerging market for lidar systems in autonomous vehicles.

Sense Photonics, another young company developing lidar technology for self-driving vehicles, says it has closed a series A round of venture funding worth $26 million.

Founded in 2016 and with veteran optical telecoms executive Scott Burroughs installed as CEO, Sense Photonics is based in Durham, North Carolina. Its core technology is said to be protected by more than 200 patents.

Backers in the funding round included lead investors Acadia Woods and Congruent Ventures, with participation from Samsung Ventures and Shell Ventures, among others.

Products in the pipeline
The funding round will be used partly for a transition to volume manufacturing, says the firm, adding that it is currently working on sales to “select early-engagement partners” in both the automotive and industrial sectors.

General availability of Sense Photonics’ first commercial product is anticipated by the end of this year.

The company differentiates itself by virtue of its flash lidar approach, adding that it manufactures its own lasers and arranges them into an array. Another startup touting a flash lidar concept is San Francisco's Ouster, whose latest sensors feature 128 lasers.

"Like other lidar systems, ours generates 3D point clouds," explains Sense Photonics on its web site. "However, because it captures information like a 2D camera, it also natively outputs depth images without the need for additional processing. This enables easy integration with high-resolution RGB data."

The firm adds that because the approach captures intensity data like a near-infrared camera, it can produce monochromatic images that are spatially and temporally correlated with the 3D data. "These images have sufficient resolution to be processed directly into deep-learning algorithms developed for standard cameras, and can address situations were standard cameras fail due to lighting conditions," it says.

Infineon partnership
Although the funding announcement marks its official launch, Sense Photonics did make an appearance earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, sharing a booth with early partner Infineon Technologies where it showed off a prototype system.

The company claims that its solid-state lidar system design, with no moving parts, will “usher in a new era of advanced 3D imaging technology designed from the ground up to meet the cost, performance and safety requirements for automotive and industrial applications”.

“This approach enables high resolution across wide horizontal and vertical fields-of-view without compromising frame rate,” adds the firm. “In addition, the company’s camera-inspired design is highly manufacturable and enables small, customizable form factors critical for seamless integration into vehicles.”

“We are very appreciative of this strong vote of investor confidence in our team and our technology,” said CEO Burroughs, a co-founder of Sense Photonics who spent 16 years at Bell Laboratories before holding senior roles at Lasertron, Nortel, Santur Corporation, Optovia, and Semprius.

“The demand we’ve encountered – even while operating in stealth mode – has been extraordinary,” he added. “We look forward to announcing our first products over the next few months and ramping up volume production.”

Innoviz backing tops $250M
While Sense Photonics is one of dozens of lidar companies to have received generous backing from venture funds and other private equity vehicles, Josh Posamentier from investor Congruent Ventures believes it will be more than able to hold its own.

“The technology that the Sense Photonics team is working on is years ahead of the competition, and we think they are poised to disrupt multiple markets,” Posamentier said.

• One of Sense Photonics’ competitors, the Israeli startup Innoviz Technologies, says it has now closed its series C venture round at $170 million. Earlier this year the Tel Aviv firm disclosed that it had raised $132 million of the series C round to support a production ramp.

The new cash, which brings Innoviz’ total funding to just over $252 million, is expected to help meet anticipated demand from BMW. Last year the German auto giant signed a deal selecting the sensors for series production vehicles, starting in 2021.

Innoviz also says that it has added two key new hires with extensive experience in machine vision and perception software. Raja Giryes and Or Shimshi will serve as “strategic collaborators”, with Shimshi bringing experience from prior roles at Samsung, Intel, and Qualcomm.

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