The company is building LiDAR sensors, typically used in satellites, for use in self-driving cars. Tesla is under heavy criticism for refusing to use such sensors
For autonomous vehicles to function usefully, they need to be able to react to changes in their surrounding environment, be that a change in traffic patterns or a sudden danger approaching the car. That’s where a sophisticated laser sensor system comes into play, and why Israel-based Innoviz Technologies announced Monday it had secured a $9 million Series A investment led by Magma Venture Partners and Vertex Venture Capital. Other investors included Zohar Zisapel, Amiti Ventures and Delek Investments.
Innoviz is building LiDAR sensing systems, which are often used by satellites to measure distance and terrain. What Innoviz and some other companies are betting on is not only the growth of the autonomous vehicle market, but the inevitable reliance of such systems on LiDAR. Their main product, High Definition Solid State LiDAR (HD-SSL), won’t debut until December. They are claiming it will have a wider field of view than the current standard, “higher resolution in both axis and long range sensing,” and be cheaper at a cost coming in under $100.
Building a car that has proper sensor coverage requires combining a number of different technologies, the company argues.
“In order to build a vehicle with a high level of autonomy, a fusion of several sensors is required – Camera, Radars and High Performance LiDARs,” Innoviz Chief Business Officer Oren Rosenzweig told Geektime. “Existing LiDARs are either low performance (very low resolution, frame rate and range) … or are very expensive,” which can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $80,000 per unit, he says.
Depending on the design, a self-driving car might need just one or two LiDARs, while some high-end models might use seven or eight. The higher number though seems less important if they can drop the cost to what they project. The major issue, however, is safety.
“Current approaches compromise passenger safety by failing to include LiDAR sensors as part of the system, due to cost and performance limitations,” Innoviz Co-founder and CEO Omer Keilaf said in a press release. One of their investors, Zohar Zisapel, agrees by calling the cost of LiDAR implementation in self-driving cars a “pain point” for pushing the market forward.
Elon Musk has said he doesn’t think LiDAR is necessary, telling the press that, “I think you can do this all with passive optical and then with maybe one forward RADAR… if you are driving fast into rain or snow or dust. I think that completely solves it without the use of LIDAR.”
But Innoviz’s argument is now boosted thanks to the first reported fatality in a Tesla on Autopilot at the end of June. Tesla released an initial investigative conclusion that neither the driver, nor the autopilot system, was able to distinguish the white facade of a tractor trailer against the brightly lit daytime sky. Google by contrast does use LiDAR in their cars, showing that there is some diversity of thought among the big players in this space.
There are a number of players in the industry, including Autonomous Solutions and Velodyne, that are working on LiDAR solutions for autonomous vehicles.
Innoviz was founded in 2016 by CEO Omer Keilaf, CBO Oren Rosenzweig, VP R&D Oren Buskila and CTO Amit Steinberg. They have 30 employees based out of Kfar Saba, Israel.