Automotive Supplier Continental AG to Integrate AEye's Long-Range Lidar in a Full-Stack Autonomous Driving Solution

Automotive Supplier Continental AG to Integrate AEye's Long-Range Lidar in a Full-Stack Autonomous Driving Solution

Author: Eric Walz   

The laser perception technology lidar is quickly becoming an essential sensor for self-driving vehicles. As a result, automakers Tier-1 suppliers and tech companies working on autonomous driving technology are entering into supply deals with a new crop of lidar developers. The latest tie up is between lidar developer AEye Inc. and one of the world's biggest automotive component suppliers Continental AG.  

AEye announced on Wednesday it struck a deal with Tier-1 supplier Continental AG to supply its long-range lidar perception sensor, which will be bundled into a full-stack autonomous driving solution. The Full-stack solution from Continental combines lidar, camera and radar data for safe navigation.

AEye is among a handful of promising lidar startups, including Volvo-backed Luminar, Innoviz, and lidar pioneer Velodyne Lidar Inc., that are working on advanced lidar systems for automotive ADAS and autonomous vehicles. The company was founded in 2013 and headquartered in Dublin, California. 

AEye is backed by leading investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Taiwania Capital, Hella Ventures, LG Electronics, Aisin, Intel Capital, Airbus Ventures, and others.

AEye's lidar technology is unique, as it combines computer vision technology with artificial intelligence to mimic how a human eye focuses on moving objects, which for a self-driving vehicle can be other vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Continental made a strategic investment in AEye in Oct 2020. The two companies did not disclose the exact amount of the investment, but said they would work together to compete for contracts from automakers to equip future vehicles with lidar-based perception systems to support automated highway driving.

In addition to autonomous vehicles, AEye's lidar perception system is designed to support today's advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), acting as an extra set of eyes for the driver.

AEye's long-range perception system even has the ability to detect an object as small as a brick at a distance of 160 meters. This extended range gives autonomous vehicle software more time to react to hazards.

Continental is integrating the long-range LiDAR technology into its full sensor stack solution to create the first full stack automotive-grade system for Level 2+ up to Level 4 automated and autonomous driving applications. 

When AEye's long-range lidar is combined with radar and camera data, Continental's autonomous driving stack will be a reliable and redundant platform that can handle complex urban driving tasks, even in poor weather conditions and at night.

"Reliable and safe automated and autonomous driving functions will not be feasible without bringing the strengths of all sensor technologies together," said Frank Petznick, head of Continental's ADAS Business Unit. Complex and safety critical traffic scenarios, such as obstacles on the road and fast vehicles passing on highways, require high automation systems to have a maximum sensing range and image resolution to ensure sufficient response time."

Lidar works by sending out pulses of laser light and measuring how long the light takes to reflect back off objects. The light that's reflected is used to create a 3D view of the environment around a self-driving vehicle. By also measuring time-of-flight, velocity and direction can be calculated as well. Lidar essentially acts as the eyes of an autonomous vehicle and is usually supported by cameras, radar data and software to help a self-driving vehicle navigate. 

In March, AEye announced it made a major breakthrough in long-range lidar performance. The company's new 4Sight M lidar sensor was able to detect objects greater than 1,000 meters away, while maintaining a 10Hz Scan Rate (10 frames per second). 

The 1,000 meter detection range was independently validated by VSI Labs, one of the nation's leading independent evaluators. The company is one of the auto industry's top advisors on autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies.

AEye's lidar can also be configured via software, so it's adaptable to meet the specific range requirements of different automakers or individual vehicle models.

"Our partnership with AEye is unique because it enables Continental to build a new long-range LiDAR in a very short time, based on AEye's reference architecture and software," said Dr. Gunnar Juergens, Head of LiDAR at Continental. "We will manage the entire product life cycle, including the development of a mass market product, as well as manufacturing, validation and testing according to automotive grade standards."

As a result of the partnership, Continental is producing first samples of AEye's long-range lidar sensor at its plant in Ingolstadt, Germany. The samples are the final steps before series production begins in 2024. 

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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