Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise self-driving vehicles may potentially operate soon in commercial robotaxi programs throughout a handful of U.S. cities. However, autonomous technology needs to clear several hurdles before its omnipresent, which includes a better and cheaper version. Silicon Valley startup Aeva Inc., created by two former Apple engineers, claims to hold the solution to these issues with its next-generation sensor system.
Aeva Inc. promises for a ‘generational leap’ in vision tech for robot cars and seem to be sticking to its promise well as the Mountain View, California company just raised $45 million in a Series A round. Venture firms including Lux Capital and Canaan Partners, led funding for the company, and follows a $3.5 million seed round in 2017, Forbes reports. The money raised will go towards expanding operations with focus on being able to supply Aeva’s sensor unit to auto and tech consumers by the early 2020’s.
“We think there’s a need for a generational leap, and we want to create the next generation of sensing technology for autonomous vehicles that’s safe, simple and scalable,” Aeva co-founder Soroush Salehian told Forbes. The funds “will go along way toward helping us build up to serve the mass market,” he said.
Co-founder Mina Rezk and Salehian met when the two were members of Apple’s Special Project Group that is believed to be working on a highly secret autonomous vehicle program, although, neither reflected on the project and would not comment. Salehian and Rezk created Aeva last year and have nearly 50 developers and engineers currently.
In today’s autonomous vehicles, many tend to be easily recognizable for their roof racks, pricey lidar sensors, radar and several cameras that create high-definition, 3D images of road conditions. In comparison, Aeva combined all aspects into a single integrated box capable of identifying and tracking objects up to 200 meters ahead while traveling at highway speed.
“That technology carries the advantage of lidar in measuring the depth and velocity of objects,” said Rezk, who worked on high-tech cameras for the auto and aerospace industries at Nikon before he joined Apple. “It also has the ability to measure instantaneous velocity, similar to how radar works, but at a much higher resolution, and it has (camera) vision as well as very highly accurate motion speed sensors.”
Aeva already began supplying sensors to automotive clients, although neither he nor Salehian would identify which clients in particular. The two claim their system meets all requirements and that they are negotiating to supply several companies beginning in the next two to three years.
“We can actually differentiate between objects within one single (image) frame, we know in one single frame what all the objects are on the road, where they’re going and which direction they’re be heading in,” he said. “Other systems, you have to go through multiple frames and multiple algorithms to figure this out.”
Aeva’s cofounders are strongly confident that its approach will set the company apart from other company’s such as Velodyne, Luminar, AEye and other lidar companies that are already in competition for lucrative supply deals with automakers. The company is not providing many specifics on pricing, production plans and partners currently, but if Aeva follows through with its promises, it will need more than $45 million to meet supplies in a potentially vast market.