Omer Keilaf

Omer Keilaf

Initiating just-auto/QUBE's series of interviews with automotive suppliers exhibiting at CES this month, we spoke to Omer Keilaf, CEO and Co-founder of Innoviz Technologies just ahead of the official opening in Las Vegas to learn about the company's showcase.  Innoviz develops LiDAR (which stands for Light Detection and Ranging) remote sensing solutions to enable the mass commercialisation of autonomous vehicles.

Could you tell us a little about Innoviz Technologies, how you started the company and the shape it is in today?

Innoviz was founded in January 2016 by former members of the elite technological unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, with renowned expertise in the fields of electro-optics, computer vision, MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) design and signal processing. We have grown very rapidly, thanks in part to $82 million in funding over two rounds, and today we have more than 100 employees and have reached a number of significant milestones. For instance, we have formed strategic partnerships with Tier 1 solution providers like Magna International and Delphi Automotive (now called Aptiv), we have expanded to new offices globally, and we have a partnership with Jabil on mass producing our sensors. We are also launching our first high-resolution 3D LiDAR, InnovizPro, which is now available for purchase by automakers, Tier-1 solution providers and tech companies looking to test and develop the next generation of autonomous vehicles. Meanwhile, our automotive-grade LiDAR, InnovizOne, will be available in 2019.

Our mission from day one has been to enable the mass commercialisation of autonomous vehicles, and today we are closer than ever to making that a reality.

Achieving the performance standards necessary for SAE Levels 3 – 5 driver autonomy at lower costs requires a fresh approach. What's yours?

Our LiDAR technology took a fresh approach to System, MEMS and Detector designs to deliver highly accurate and superior autonomous vehicle sensing capabilities. Our solid-state design enables us to deliver LiDAR in a more compact, reliable device that costs significantly less than any LiDAR currently on the market. We also provide additional layers of advanced algorithms for computer vision, HD mapping, SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping) and other areas.

There are lots of LiDAR suppliers out there. What is different about your solution?

What really sets our solution apart is the growth and maturity of our solution.

We provide high resolution, solid-state, MEMS-based LiDAR, to deliver best-in-class performance at the cost and size required for mass market adoption. The sensor is comprised of three proprietary chips: MEMS, System and Detector. What really sets our solution apart is the growth and maturity of our solution. As of this month, InnovizPro is available for purchase, so that automakers and Tier 1 companies can buy them now and have early access to our technology leading up to the launch of our automotive-grade LiDAR, InnovizOne, coming in 2019.

LiDAR is said to be the most important of the sensor suite that enables the different levels of driver autonomy. Yet one of the challenges for manufacturers with this type of sensor, in particular, is to find reliability and robustness along with economic viability.  How does your solution address this?

Innoviz full system approach provides OEMs with the optimal solution to enable mass commercialization:

LiDAR is 10 times better, 100 times smaller and 1,000 times cheaper than currently available solutions.

LiDAR that is 10 times better, 100 times smaller and 1,000 times cheaper than currently available solutions. We are leading this industry and are pushing forward transitioning to mass production phase.

Our LiDAR technology uses proprietary System, MEMs and Detector designs to deliver superior sensing capabilities, even in challenging environments such as bright direct sunlight, varying weather conditions and multi-LiDAR environments. Meanwhile, our solid-state design is smaller, more reliable and more durable than other solutions. So from a technology perspective, our product is simply superior, but it is also farther along and closer to mass production than any other solutions. The entire industry is working under a timeline of introducing fully autonomous vehicles by 2020-2021, which means that the necessary technologies are being chosen now. In order to be chosen, technology companies need to comply with the stringent specifications and requirements of OEMs. Today we the only LiDAR company with an actual working product and technology which is able to comply with those specifications. Not to mention that we also have the commercial partnerships in place to embed our technology into autonomous vehicles in the very near future.

We hear that today's mechanical scanning LiDARs are vulnerable to shocks, vibration and degradation. How does your solid-state LIDAR technology solution compare?

One of the key benefits to solid-state LiDAR is that it is significantly less susceptible to shocks and vibration, since there are fewer moving parts. Our solution is the most reliable and durable LiDAR on the market. Solid-state LiDARs will replace mechanical LiDARs once they are widely available. Solid-state design provides the required safety, performance, durability and reliability to enable autonomous driving, as well as a more attractive price point.

You make the claim that when your InnovizOne automotive grade LiDAR becomes available in 2019, it will cost less than $1,000 compared to $80,000 for existing LiDAR devices. How have you achieved that and made it smaller?

We designed our innovative opto-mechanical system specifically so that the assembly and manufacturing process would enable us to deliver the product at a lower production cost while still meeting the stringent performance requirements of the automotive industry. We have delivered on all fronts by (1) developing an extremely automated assembly process, (2) using very few components (unlike our competitors, who rely heavily on designs that require the usage of many components), and (3) developing an accurate process of assembly, enabling us to reach high optical efficiency in order to deliver superior high performance.

As we understand it, Innoviz Technologies recently raised $65 million in Series B funding. What are you going to do with it?

Actually, the total amount of our Series B round was $73 million, once we added onto the round with investments from Samsung Catalyst and SoftBank Ventures Korea. We will take our LiDAR products to mass production, while also using the funds to scale our computer vision and SLAM capabilities to forge new strategic collaborations and to penetrate new areas of development. Of course, we also plan to hire aggressively for several areas of the company.

We are seeing LiDAR technology being driven mostly by non-automotive optical companies and start-ups. Innoviz have formed a number of partnerships with tier one suppliers, including Magna. What is this partnership aiming to achieve?

We are working closely with our strategic investors Delphi and Magna in order to offer the best solution to OEMs and to help the market get to mass commercialization as quickly as possible. We are also engaging with other leading stakeholders in the industry, OEMs included. In today's fast-paced automotive industry, companies need to collaborate with multiple partners in order to serve the end market needs and to advance the technology at the increasingly faster pace that's required to remain competitive. The onset of autonomous vehicles and the development of technologies supporting this transformation are greatly contributing to the creation of collaborative relationships between various stakeholders and for the consolidation of technologies.

I guess developing LiDAR for autonomous vehicles is just the first step for Innoviz. What other autonomous driving technologies are you looking at? And where else do you see your LiDAR technology being applied?

We are focused on the automotive market right now but InnovizPro is also being made available to other verticals, such as mapping, fleets, security and surveillance, industrial automation and logistics. At the same time, we are working to expand our capabilities within the automotive market. Our precise and sophisticated sensing technology enables us to provide a superior algorithmic layer that can use deep learning to turn 3D vision into critical driving insights, such as in the areas such as HD mapping and SLAM. So we are working towards developing the full autonomous software stack.