Innoviz Claims New Lidar Sensor 70% Cheaper, Better Performance

In less than five years since it was founded, Israeli startup Innoviz has established itself as a company to be taken seriously in the automotive lidar business. While light detection and ranging (Lidar) sensors were originally thought to be a key component of highly automated driving systems, they are now finding a place in lower level partially automated systems and that is the market Innoviz is targeting with its new InnovizTwo sensor. 

Innoviz already has an automotive grade sensor called the InnovizOne that will get its first volume production applications with BMW in 2021. The lidar will be used as part of a level 3 conditionally automated system. Level 4 systems that are designed to operate without any need for human supervision or automation are taking longer to mature than anticipated a few years ago. As a result automakers and suppliers are trying to leverage the technology developed for those systems in L2 and L3 systems in order to get some return on their investment. Guidehouse Insights projects sales of nearly 60 million vehicles globally with L2 or L3 capability and a market for nearly 32 million lidar sensors for these applications. 

L3 systems are designed to provide hands-free capabilities that don’t require constant supervision within limited domains. The recently passed UNECE regulations for L3 limit operation to speeds below 60 km/h (37 mph) and on limited access highways. In stop and go traffic, a driver could take their eyes off the road and do something else, but as soon as the speed limit is exceeded, they have to take control. 

Mercedes-Benz recently announced that its first L3 system would launch in the new S-class in mid-2021 and the production version of the BMW iNext electric crossover is expected to debut around the same time. Mercedes-Benz hasn’t identified its lidar supplier. 

“OEMs are generally willing to pay for level three premium cars up to $1,000 for lidar,” said Omer Keilef, CEO and co-founder of Innoviz. “For level two, the barrier is much lower so they’re talking about $400 to $500.”

Those costs aren’t just for the physical hardware, but also for the supporting software and the costs associated with development and validation. On top of that, a major automaker isn’t going to buy such important components directly from a startup like Innoviz. Automakers want to work with their trusted tier one supplier partners to do the actual manufacturing and integration. 

In this case, Magna will be producing the InnovizOne sensors and combining it with the other components that make up the L3 system that BMW will use including the Mobileye EyeQ5-based vision system as well as radars and a compute platform assembled by Aptiv
APTV
. Magna or any other tier one supplier is going to expect some margin for the work they have to do so that puts pricing pressure on a company like Innoviz. 

Thus once the InnovizOne design was completed, the company went to work on its next-generation design. According to Keilef, this new sensor was designed to have significantly better performance than the InnovizOne for use in L4 robotaxi applications. However, when it became clear that the near term needs were a lower cost sensor to support hands-free L2+ systems similar to GM’s Super Cruise as well as L3 systems, they scaled down the design to retain similar or better performance than the original, but with a cost reduced by 70%. 

The key components of a lidar sensor are the control chip, an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC), lasers, beam steering mechanism and photodetector. All but the lasers are Innoviz unique intellectual property. For the InnovizTwo, the same ASIC was retained, but the MEMS mechanism used for beam steering and the detector were completely reworked. They are now claimed to provide better performance than the previous design at much lower cost. 

While Kelief didn’t get into specific details of the changes, it can be reasonably assumed that with a reduction from the four lasers used in the InnovizOne, the detector in particular is probably more sensitive than before. If so, it will capture more ambient photons which will in turn need some new software tricks in order to filter out the interference.

Like the InnovizOne, the InnovizTwo sensor has 256 lines of vertical resolution with 0.1 degree angular resolution. The package size is smaller than the current sensor, but no specific dimensions are given. The detection range is expected to be well over 200 m for targets with 10% reflectivity. 

Innoviz hasn’t named a tier one manufacturing partner for its new sensor yet. However, it does plan to start delivering samples to customers in the third quarter of 2021 and expects to be ready for volume production applications in the fall of 2023. If Innoviz can deliver on the specs and at the claimed price point, they will have a very compelling product that could allow the addition of lidar to far more vehicles in the next several years.

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