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Quanergy cashes in on auto lidar frenzy

23 Aug 2016

Delphi and Samsung among the investors taking part in $90M venture round, a week after rival lidar developer Velodyne raised $150M.

Sunnyvale-based Quanergy Systems is the latest developer of solid-state lidar technology to announce major venture funding, with a $90 million series B round led by blue-chip investors.

Just a week after its rival and Silicon Valley neighbor Velodyne attracted $150 million from Ford and Baidu, Quanergy has won large-scale backing from NYSE-listed Sensata Technologies, car parts giant Delphi and Samsung Ventures, alongside Motus Ventures and GP Capital.

$1BN+ valuation
Perhaps mindful of Velodyne’s larger dollar amount, Quanergy points out that the latest round brings its total financing so far to around $150 million, and has taken the unusual step of saying that this equates to a company valuation in excess of $1 billion.

Filings with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) show that Quanergy raised $30 million in late 2014, after completing an initial round of seed funding earlier that year.

Like Velodyne, Quanergy says the latest deal will enable it to ramp production of solid-state lidar sensors, primarily for the anticipated boom in demand from autonomous vehicle production.

While the likes of Tesla, Google and Baidu have been working on the potentially very disruptive technology for some time, more recently the automotive giants have begun to reveal their intentions in the autonomous realm – most recently with Ford’s pledge to mass-produce an autonomous vehicle within five years.

BMW is targeting a production launch within a similar time frame, working with Intel and camera firm Mobileye. According to Bloomberg News, Mobileye is already working with General Motors, Volkswagen and Nissan on mapping technology that gathers crowd-sourced real-time data from automakers’ fleets of vehicles.

Quanergy CEO Louay Eldada said in response to the $90 million round: “Innovation in lidar technology represents one of the largest opportunities unfolding around the globe, and this infusion of funding will enable us to accelerate development, scale faster and expand our world-class engineering team.”

He added that the involvement of investors from various related industries would help to improve safety and efficiency, with an impact on applications and markets outside of the “hot topic” area of autonomous driving.

$250 sensors
Quanergy, whose solid-state sensors appeared integrated with Mercedes and Volvo cars at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, said at the time that it would be able to produce the lidar devices for a price of just $250.

Car manufacturers are mindful of both the size and cost of the technology, with six or more sensors appearing on vehicles tested thus far. Quanergy released new “S3-Qi” versions of its devices in May, saying that the technology set new benchmarks with an inch-scale form factor and a weight of just 100 grams.

Quanergy’s sensors are based around an optical phased array transmitter, which guides steady pulses of light by shifting the phase of the pulse as it is projected. The microsecond pulses mean that a car can gather in the region of one million points of data every second, to recognize and interpret its immediate surroundings.

One of the remaining challenges with the technology is to ensure that the range of sensing capability extends to distances suitable for cars travelling at high speeds – something that is likely to require more powerful lasers and faster, more sensitive detectors.

Quanergy says it will use the latest investment to ramp production of its solid-state sensors, eyeing a market it expects to be worth in excess of $1 billion by 2020, and $3 billion by 2022.

Sensata pedigree
While Velodyne has made similar claims, Quanergy says that it is the “first and only” company to develop a compact, low-cost, automotive grade solid-state lidar sensor.

“The company is aggressively working to commercialize these cost-effective, capable and robust sensors critical for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving applications, and currently has pre-production contracts with multiple global customers,” announced the firm.

Earlier this year Quanergy agreed a strategic deal with Sensata, which is now an investor, to become exclusive partners targeting the emerging market for transportations sensors. At the time, Sensata CEO Martha Sullivan said:

“This partnership is a pragmatic way to extend our sensing capabilities into advanced driver assistance applications, one of the fastest-growing areas of transportation sensing.”

Though not as well-known a name as Delphi or Samsung, Sensata has a great deal of industrial pedigree. It was formerly the Texas Instruments sensors and controls division, and boasts strong and long-standing customer relationships across the automotive industry.

Motus Ventures’ portfolio is dedicated to transportation, smart infrastructure and Internet of Things technologies, and recently it also invested – along with Ford – in the lidar mapping start-up Civil Maps.

That $6.6 million deal is one of a flurry of recent investments in lidar companies, with auto technology firm ZF, parts giant Denso, and others all getting involved.

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