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Aeva plans route to FMCW lidar ramp

06 Mar 2024

CEO says it is now a matter of 'when', and not 'if', the automotive industry adopts the more advanced sensing technology.

Aeva, the Silicon Valley company specializing in frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) lidar, says it is now a matter of “when”, and not “if”, the automotive industry adopts the technology.

Those comments were made by Aeva co-founder and CEO Soroush Salehian during the Mountain View firm’s latest investor call, during which he outlined plans to ramp production of FMCW sensors for key customers Nikon and Daimler Truck - with additional vehicle OEMs expected to make key purchasing decisions within months.

While Aeva’s 2023 sales of $4.3 million were only marginally higher than the 2022 total - and the company burned through around $120 million of its cash pile - Salehian highlighted the significance of the recent series production agreement with Daimler Truck, describing it as a “massive validation” of the firm’s FMCW lidar.

“This is a clear indication of the industry’s growing appreciation and shift towards FMCW technology, to enable even more advanced ADAS, and highway autonomy functionality in vehicles,” said the CEO.

2027 ramp
Based around a frequency-chirped laser source and silicon photonics, the optical core of Aeva’s latest “Atlas” system-on-chip design can be used for both industrial and automotive applications, with different software used to address different requirements.

Unlike conventional time-of-flight lidar, the FMCW approach is able to determine the velocity as well as the position of other objects on the road, and can be scaled to chip-scale, low-power modules. Other companies working on the technology include Aurora Innovation, Baraja, Scantinel, SiLC Technologies, and LuminWave, as well as a research group at Intel.

FMCW also supports ultra-long-range sensing - something of particular interest for heavy commercial trucks that take a long time to get up to highway speeds, and to slow down.

The down side of FMCW has always been its relative complexity - but Aeva appears to have solved that problem, with Sahelian noting that Daimler Truck, which has particularly stringent requirements, has evaluated its planned manufacturing line and supply chain partners. “This is no small feat, especially for a company at our stage,” noted the CEO.

Series production for Nikon’s deployments in industrial automation is slated to begin by the end of this year, with Daimler scheduled to begin adopting the technology in 2026, followed by a ramp to potentially hundreds of thousands of units in 2027.

Fabless production strategy
In the meantime, Salehian said that other truck companies and makers of passenger vehicles were currently working through requests for quotations (RFQs), with decisions anticipated in 6-9 months’ time.

The Daimler deal, announced during the CES event in January, has sparked wider interest among OEMs, added the CEO. “As OEMs deploy highway autonomy, we expect FMCW to play a central role,” he told investors. “The feedback [we’re getting] from OEMs is that not ‘if’ they are transitioning to FMCW, but ‘when’.”

As a result Aeva - which is a fabless company and so uses contract manufacturers to scale the technology - is working to ensure enough future production capacity is available to meet demand if it is able to secure the additional design wins it is pursuing.

Salehian and his team currently expect the firm’s sales revenues to at least double this year while costs remain at roughly the same level, which will mean further significant cash burn in 2024. But they also stress that with close to $350 million available in cash, other liquid assets, and via a credit facility, the firm remains in a strong position ahead of the planned ramp.

“The unique performance and maturity of Aeva’s 4D lidar, along with our financial strength, position us to lead this [FMCW] adoption, as we progress on multiple additional automotive RFQs anticipated to be awarded this year.”

© 2024 SPIE Europe
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