Most developers of self-driving vehicles, including automakers and tech companies, rely on lidar perception technology to help autonomous vehicles safely navigate. As automakers around the world introduce more vehicles with level 2 highway autonomous driving systems, there is growing demand for low cost, high-performance automotive-grade lidar sensors, and a crop of new startups is competing to supply the industry. Among them is Silicon Valley based lidar startup Quanergy Systems Inc.
The company announced the development of a new long range solid-state lidar sensor using an industry-first Optical Phased Array (OPA) technology that offers a range of up to 100 meters. The 100 meter range was successfully demonstrated in partnership with Zero Electric Vehicle Inc. (ZEV).
Zero Electric Vehicles INC. (“ZEV”) is an Arizona based Software-Defined Electric Vehicle manufacturer.
“We are very excited about this industry-first demonstration of 100-meter range achieved in full daylight with Quanergy’s OPA-based solid-state technology,” said Dr. Tianyue Yu, Quanergy Co-founder and Chief Development Officer. “Our team is now working towards even more aggressive performance targets, including longer range, increased vertical field of view and data rate.”
Quanergy is looking to increase the range up to 200 meters as it works to improve the design.
Quanergy’s S3 Series lidar sensors are entirely solid-state, meaning they have no moving parts to wear out for increased reliability. Quanergy says the sensor provides more than 100,000 hours mean time between failure (MTBF). In addition, the scalable CMOS silicon design enables mass production at low cost.
The word lidar is an acronym for “Light Detection and Ranging”. Lidar technology works by sending out pulses of laser light which are reflected back off solid objects. The light reflected back is used to create a 3D rendering of the environment. In addition, by measuring the time-of-flight of the reflected laser light, velocity and direction of an object can be determined. This lidar data is used to help a self-driving vehicle safely navigate by detecting objects, such as other cars and pedestrians around the vehicle.
Since Quanergy’s lidar is an optical phased array design, the laser beams can be electronically controlled to focus on specific objects with each scan.
For the S3 lidar range test, Quanergy and ZEV mounted a solid-state, single scanning beam lidar unit on the vehicle, along with forward facing additional cameras for viewing. The test vehicle followed a target vehicle driving in bright sunlight at different ranges from a close proximity to a distance of 100 meters. A target with 10% reflectivity was chosen to simulate very difficult-to-detect objects a self-driving vehicle might face, such as detecting a darkly painted vehicle driving in low light conditions or a piece of debris in the roadway at night.
The test was important, as some targets reflect light better than others, making them easier for lidar to detect. For example, a white painted car returns a greater amount of light compared to a dark colored car, which absorbs more of the light. Using lidar with longer range gives an autonomous vehicle’s motion planning systems more time to react.
“Quanergy’s CMOS-based OPA technology has demonstrated significant improvement towards its adoption in long range automotive applications,” said Jim Maury, President at ZEV. “We believe Quanergy’s OPA technology provides a highly reliable and cost-effective 3D LiDAR solution that is critically important for the automotive industry.”
Quanergy’s S3 Series LiDAR sensor is designed to meet automotive industry requirements for object detection and collision avoidance. The sensor’s unique electronic beam steering without any moving parts offers additional protection against shock and vibration.
Quanergy is targeting a price of $500 for its mass-market production lidar sensor.
Lidar however is not just for self-driving vehicles, its can be used for many IoT applications, such as smart city technology. Quanergy’s recent commercial IoT deployments include the first vehicle-to-everything (V2X) Smart City deployment in Korea.
Quanergy is also working with PARIFEX, a French company that develops speed control systems for highways. Parifex’s lidar based traffic monitoring system can measure the speed of multiple vehicles simultaneously. It can monitor multiple lanes and detects all vehicles fully automatically in both directions of travel.
Quanergy’s lidar is being used by Parifex to track, identify and classify different vehicles simultaneously on different highway lanes, using OPA technology to identify individual vehicles that are speeding.
“We chose Quanergy’s Lidar for its accuracy to strengthen the Vigie Double-Side solution, long-range detection at high speeds, as well as its high performance in challenging conditions. Our first project with Quanergy, which was deployed in Rouen, France, confirmed our decision to continue leveraging Quanergy’s Lidar technology.”
In June, Quanergy entered into a definitive merger agreement with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) CITIC Capital Acquisition Corp to become a publicly traded company later this year, joining rivals Velodyne Lidar, Innoviz Technologies and Volvo-backed Luminar, all of which have launched IPOs in SPAC deals.
Lidar developers are lining up to secure lidar supply contracts with major automakers as more vehicles come equipped with lidar to support advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), such as hands-free highway driving.
Upon closing of the transaction, the combined company will be named Quanergy Systems, Inc. and is expected to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker symbol “QNGY.”
Anticipated pro forma net cash of approximately $278 million will be used to fully fund and accelerate Quanergy’s growth strategy, based on approximately $276 million in cash held in trust, as well as the proceeds of a $40 million fully committed private placement investment of shares in Quanergy.
The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2021 and is subject to customary closing conditions.