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Lidar firms to merge as Ouster acquires Sense Photonics

06 Oct 2021

San Francisco firms to establish new ‘Ouster Automotive’ division with Sense CEO Shauna McIntyre at the helm.

Two of the current multitude of lidar companies are set to merge, with Nasdaq-listed Ouster agreeing an all-stock deal to acquire startup Sense Photonics.

The transaction, expected to complete by the end of the year, will see around 80 employees of Sense transfer to Ouster, including CEO and former Google executive Shauna McIntyre.

McIntyre will subsequently become president of “Ouster Automotive”, a new company division aimed squarely at the emerging opportunity for lidar deployment in autonomous vehicles.

Although the two companies did not publicize the cash valuation of the agreement, according to this Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, the current holders of Sense stock will be entitled to receive Ouster common stock priced at $10.01 per share at an aggregate value of $105 million.

Co-founded five years ago in Durham, North Carolina, by veteran optical telecoms executive Scott Burroughs, Sense Photonics has developed a digital lidar platform based around vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) and single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs).

In 2019 the firm raised $26 million in venture finance, with the likes of Samsung and Shell taking part in the series A funding round.

Like Ouster, the firm’s approach is based around the “flash lidar” concept, and earlier this year the company launched a system said to be capable of generating point cloud imagery at a rate of more than 10 million points per second.

“The Sense flash architecture utilizes global shutter acquisition to produce incredible high-resolution 3D images up to 200 meters away for 10 per cent reflective targets in full sunlight - with no motion blur and no data gaps,” claims the firm.

“Sense’s solid-state technology, which is closely aligned with Ouster’s digital approach, has generated serious interest from global automotive OEMs, including a major strategic development agreement,” said Sense CEO Shauna McIntyre.

“The anticipated merger synergies are clear. We have a terrific opportunity to marry our two platforms to capture additional automotive design wins. Furthermore, Ouster’s resources, manufacturing know-how, and proven ability to execute gives us confidence that, together, we have what it takes to become the market leader in automotive.”

Multi-sensor suite
Another outcome of the Sense Photonics acquisition is that it will allow the Ouster business to concentrate on other industrial applications for lidar, where CEO Angus Pacala believes the firm has “pulled ahead” of its peers.

“Ouster and Sense are an ideal pairing,” he said. “Combining Ouster’s digital expertise and maturity in product development and manufacturing with Sense’s advanced solid-state digital lidar silicon is expected to accelerate the delivery of our multi-sensor digital lidar suite for the consumer ADAS market.”

The two firms added in an investor presentation outlining the rationale of the acquisition that the new Ouster Automotive division would look to advance no fewer than five series production programs currently under negotiation that they believe could eventually be worth more than $1 billion in revenue, with production slated to begin in 2025 or 2026.

During an analyst call to discuss the deal, Pacala said: “Together we plan to bring to market a 200 meter range, solid-state digital lidar, accelerating Ouster’s previous solid-state roadmap by more than a year.”

McIntyre added: “While other lidar companies are focused on delivering a single forward-looking lidar, Ouster Automotive plans to deliver a multi-sensor suite of short-, medium- and long-range solid-state lidar that offer 360-degree coverage, and meet the performance and price requirements for consumer and commercial vehicles.”

The aim is to end up offering a package of five sensors providing a surround-view of the vehicle, at a total cost of less than $1000, she added.

Photon Lines LtdIridian Spectral TechnologiesBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationSPECTROGON ABLaCroix Precision OpticsCeNing Optics Co LtdOptikos Corporation
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