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'Image-quality' lidar firm raises $30M

29 Oct 2018

Silicon Valley-based Innovusion wins Chinese venture backing to target market for autonomous vehicles with laser sensors.

Investors in China have stumped up a large chunk of $30 million in series A financing for Innovusion, yet another company targeting the future market for self-driving cars with lidar sensors.

The round, co-led by China’s NIO Capital and Eight Roads Ventures, also featured US-based F-Prime Capital. Gaorong Capital and other strategic investors have provided seed funding, says the Los Altos startup. A US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filing from late 2016 confirms early investment of $2.75 million.

Range plus resolution
Innovusion already has a product ready to ship: its “Cheetah” sensor is said to be available to customers worldwide, with the company claiming it to be “the world’s first image-grade lidar system” to support what’s known as level 4+ autonomy – meaning that a vehicle is fully autonomous under certain operating conditions.

The company joins the ranks of lidar developers hopeful of capturing what is widely expected to be a huge future market for the technology as vehicles become ever more autonomous. Like rivals Luminar and AEye, Innovusion appears to be targeting high-end performance, claiming that the Cheetah product has a range in excess of 200 meters and generates a high-density point cloud that forms a relatively clear image of the vehicle’s surroundings (see video above).

The 300-line image it produces is said to offer more than double the resolution of other providers, while Innovusion says that it is able to combine this with a high frame rate and a low cost, once it has scaled to high-volume production. An initial ramp is already said to be under way.

“Innovusion Cheetah is the first lidar technology to feature the unique combination of image-grade resolution and high signal-to-noise ratio required for long-distance detection,” claims the November 2016 startup.

R&D team expanding
Co-founder and CEO Junwei Bao, armed with a PhD in electrical engineering from Berkeley and previously a VP at the Silicon Valley base of semiconductor manufacturing equipment firm Tokyo Electron, said in a company release:

“Lidar technology is critical to accelerating the adoption and deployment of autonomous vehicles, and we look forward to working with providers and manufacturers to ensure their solutions are supported with the best-in-class technology for superior range and resolution.

“This round of funding will allow us to expand our research and development team and manufacturing facilities to more quickly develop, market and deliver Innovusion Cheetah lidar to customers around the world, helping drive innovative perception solutions in autonomous vehicles.”

According to its web site, Innovusion is currently hiring across multiple disciplines, with jobs advertised for optical and lidar system engineers. Samples of the debut product are said to have begun shipping earlier this year, and Innovusion claims that the technology is “proven” in both the US and China.

Ian Zhu is a managing partner at NIO Capital, the investment wing of the Shanghai-headquartered electric vehicle maker NIO: “Lidar is a key component for autonomous driving, especially high performance lidar,” says Zhu. “Cheetah is one of the most advanced lidar sensors we have seen in the market. When looking at the robo-taxi market and the amount of testing needed, we see a strong immediate need for high-performance lidar sensors.”

Eight Roads Ventures partner Ted Chua added: “Innovusion’s technology has taken the bar for high-performance lidars to the next level, and we are honored to have the opportunity to back and work with such an outstanding team.”

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