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Oryx lands $50M to build 'groundbreaking' automotive lidar

10 Aug 2017

More venture capital cash for key photonics technology seen as critical for safe navigation of autonomous vehicles.

Israel-headquartered startup Oryx Vision is the latest developer of lidar technology for autonomous vehicles to announce a major tranche of venture finance, attracting $50 million in its series B round.

The Petach Tikva firm, set up by former Vishay Intertechnology executive David Ben Bassat in 2009, follows the likes of Velodyne, Quanergy Systems, Luminar Technologies and others, with the news coming in the same week that Intel completed its $15 billion acquisition of Mobileye - another Israeli firm in the self-driving space.

New investors
Pouring their money into Oryx this time were Third Point Ventures and WRV, who led the round. They were joined by Union Tech Ventures, plus existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Maniv Mobility and Trucks VC.

The finance comes just over a year after Oryx raised $17 million in its first funding round, with the company saying that its far-infrared “nano-antennae” are able to solve problems with conventional lidar found in bright, low sunlight, or adverse weather conditions.

“Oryx builds a game-changing automotive lidar, based on a radically innovative light sensing technology,” boasts the firm. “A coherent flash system with no moving parts, it achieves the depth vision performance required for autonomous driving – with the simplicity and robustness of a digital camera.”

It goes on to explain that, whereas all other lidars navigate by bouncing photons off of nearby objects and detecting them with photodetectors, Oryx instead uses silicon-based “antennae”.

“This enables a low-cost system that’s a million times more sensitive, is resistant to interference from the sun and other lidars, and produces both range and velocity data for every point in its field of view,” states the company. “Such high performance, that will be critical for fully autonomous driving, is impossible with existing technologies.”

‘No trade-off’
CEO Rani Wellingstein, one of the Oryx co-founders, added: “Oryx is building the first solution that will meet all the key requirements of automotive lidars – high performance, car durability and low price – without a trade-off.

“We are delighted to receive a vote of confidence in our vision from such sophisticated investors, and to have the resources to bring this technology to market quickly and at the highest quality.”

Oryx says that it will put the new funds towards accelerating its development activities and “intensifying” commercial engagements with car OEMs and top-tier-auto part suppliers. The company expects to ship units for car-mounted testing in the second half of 2018.

While Ben Bassat, who is credited with creating the core light sensing technology behind the system, founded the company back in 2009, it only became known as Oryx Vision last year, when he was joined by Wellingstein.

Both Wellingstein and Ben Bassat have enjoyed successful exits with previous startup ventures, in the software and semiconductor spaces respectively, and like many tech entrepeneurs in Israel they cut their teeth in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Oryx maintains close links with the nanotechnology laboratory at Bar Ilan university, the alma mater of several of its scientists, and patents filed previously by Ben Bassat suggest that the antenna technology may exploit the under-utilized terahertz spectrum.

Lip Bu Tan, managing director of new investor WRV, said in a statement from the firm: “Oryx tackles the lidar challenge by innovating its fundamental light sensing element.

“As hardware and semiconductor investors, this is very exciting to us. We believe building a true solid-state, silicon-based system will be essential for creating automotive-grade high performance lidar. Oryx’s innovation makes it possible.”

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