Israeli start-up advancing solid state laser detection system for autonomous cars

Israeli startup is aiming to make autonomous vehicles more affordable by revamping a key piece of the detection technology.

Model of driverless cars (photo credit: COURTESY OF INNOVIZ)
Model of driverless cars
(photo credit: COURTESY OF INNOVIZ)
As driverless cars begin to emerge on roads around the world, one Israeli startup is aiming to make such autonomous vehicles more affordable by revamping a key piece of the detection technology.
By the end of 2016, the Kfar Saba-based Innoviz Technologies Ltd. plans to release a prototype of its High Definition Solid State LiDAR, a radar detection system that employs light from lasers to scan an area. While LiDAR systems are already being employed in autonomous vehicles, such as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, entrepreneurs at Innoviz say they are creating a product that makes the laser technology more precise and cost prohibitive.
“But the problem with [the existing LiDAR] solution is that it’s very, very big and very heavy,” Omer Keilaf, CEO and co-founder of Innoviz told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“It’s not reliable and costs tens of thousands of dollars.”
Innoviz, on the other hand, is promising a detection device that costs only $100 and measures 5 cm.x5 cm.x5 cm. in size.
The company, which began looking for funding in January, announced the receipt of $9 million already in August.
The entire $9m. was actually raised in just two weeks, in January, after entrepreneur Zohar Zisapel, who served in the same army intelligence unit as Keilaf, invested the initial $1m.
“LiDAR is a light radar,” Keilaf told the Post. “It’s a laser scanner, it meets light in different areas of the environment and measures the time it takes for the light to be reflected back.”
By understanding precisely how far everything is from the camera, the system is able to construct a 3D image of the entire scene, he explained.
The large LiDAR cameras in today’s autonomous cars contain dozens of lasers inside, shooting pulses and measuring the light reflection time, Keilaf said. Using a motor to move around, these LiDARs typically spin with the dozens of lasers stacked vertically, allowing them to “naively scan the environment” at a cost of about $75,000, according to Keilaf.
Although the Innoviz detection concept is similar, the company’s solid state LiDAR uses just one or two lasers to scan the area by means of silicon chips, instead of moving parts.
“We use a very small size detector that we are designing,” Keilaf said. “The reason that we are able to create the whole solution for $100 is because of that. We don’t need so many components.
It’s not that hard to assemble the device. We are actually achieving performance that is exceeding the best in class LiDAR today.”
The chip, he explained, scans the entire scene and controls the direction of the laser beam at each point, enabling greater precision.
While the California-based company Quanergy Systems is also working on a 3D-sensing LiDAR that likewise lacks moving parts and has a similarly low price tag, Keilaf stressed that the Innoviz technology will be higher performance, with a greater frame and pixel rate.
“We are targeting something that is above several megapixels per second,” he said.
The company hopes to unveil a demo at the end of the year, followed by a release of engineering samples during the first quarter of 2017, according to Keilaf.
About one year later, he and his colleagues intend to roll out the full-fledged product.
Keilaf will be addressing the annual Electricity 2016 International Convention on Thursday in Eilat, organized by the Society of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in Israel, where he said he plans to further discuss the autonomous driving industry and its key players.