As A Public Company, Design Wins Are The Goal For Innoviz
Israeli lidar startup Innoviz is the smallest of the half-dozen laser sensor companies that have gone public this year, at least as measured by market capitalization. But it boasts an accomplishment that most of its competitors lack - a design win for a production vehicle, specifically the upcoming BMW iNext series.
Public Company Metrics
Lidar startups like Innoviz find themselves in a curious position as publicly-traded companies with little in the way of revenue or other objective metrics, because virtually no production vehicles currently incorporate lidar.
Innoviz Vice President of North America Aditya Srinivasan shares that, for the moment, startups like his differentiate themselves in terms of design wins.
Those design wins have proven scarce. So far, only two have been announced publicly - Innoviz’s partnership with BMW, and competitor Luminar’s inclusion in future Volvo vehicles.
The Automotive Supply Chain
A design win brings a small company like Innoviz into relationships with much larger automotive suppliers. Even though these relationships start small, they can grow to pay dividends in the future.
Innoviz has only 350 employees, mostly based in Israel. The BMW partnership connects this small Israeli startup with the giant automotive supplier Magna, which has over 159,000 employees, as well as Aptiv
The number of companies involved in this particular effort also hints at the general importance of volume manufacturing and the low costs that facilitates.
“The dream of the entire industry is a $500 lidar,” Srinivasan explains. “And when we achieve a $500 unit, at scale, the dream will become a $200 lidar.”
A car in the luxury iNext series can incorporate more expensive, cutting-edge sensors than most consumer vehicles. But even the BMW iX xDrive50, which is the first car in the series and which does not yet offer a lidar-equipped option, has a limit on the price it could charge for driver assistance. The base model, currently without a lidar, starts at $83,200.
By the time mid-market and entry-level vehicles incorporate lidar, the entire driver assistance package will need to be priced near $1000, with the lidar constituting no more than 20% of that cost, predicts Innoviz’s Srinivasan.
Those constraints affect the choices different lidar manufacturers make. While some suppliers utilize more expensive and higher-performance 1550 nanometer laser technology, Innoviz utilizes 905 nanometer lasers, which are more economical, but limited to lower power and range.
Innoviz utilizes software to compensate for these constraints by averaging together adjacent signals in its units’ laser arrays, a technique it calls summation.
For similar reasons of cost, the iNext system will include only a single front-facing lidar sensor. This may bu sufficient for the partial autonomy that BMW promises for the iNext, but higher levels of autonomy would require more robust sensor suites.
Autonomous vehicles that can operate without a driver, like those built by Alphabet’s Waymo subsidiary, incorporate multiple lidar sensors, covering all sides of the vehicle. But those higher-cost vehicles are designed for ridesharing, rather than sale to individual consumers at a traditional automotive price levels.
Innoviz finds itself at the cutting edge of an industry demanding higher performance for lower cost, with only a few firm purchase commitments across the entire ecosystem.
As driver assistance becomes prevalent in the coming years, automotive manufacturers are almost certain to purchase lidar units, which is why so many such startups, including Innoviz, have earned support from the public financial markets.
“Innoviz is focused on bringing the next-generation InnovizTwo sensor to market, in volume, at the magic $500 level,” shares Srinivasan, the company’s vice president.
Until that volume arrives, Innoviz’s recent IPO provides cash to deliver future generations of products with ever-higher performance for autonomous driving, while satisfying automotive manufacturers and ultimately consumers on price.