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  1. Interview
January 7, 2022

CES: LiDAR of the pack – Q&A with Innoviz

Continuing our series of interviews at CES this week, we spoke to Omer Keilaf, CEO and Co-Founder, Innoviz to learn more about its sensor technologies.

By Matthew Beecham

Innoviz Technologies develops and manufactures solid-state LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors and perception software that enable the mass-production of autonomous vehicles.

What is the headline message that Innoviz is putting out at this year’s CES?

Innoviz is the real deal. Our LiDAR is not merely a concept; it’s a product that is sold and in use in several markets today. For example, our InnovizOne LiDAR is deployed in Asian, European and North American markets for use in smart city, autonomous driving and shuttle applications. BMW selected our InnovizOne LiDAR for use in its 7 Series with Level 3 autonomy, as did a leading Tier-1 supplier for its European autonomous shuttle program. Last month, we announced that our Perception Software is supported on the NVIDIA DRIVE platform and just recently, we announced that Japan’s largest construction company, Obayashi, uses InnovizOne LiDAR as part of its autonomous crane system. Innoviz also just launched the first B samples of InnovizTwo, our next-generation automotive-grade LiDAR sensor, according to plan. InnovizTwo demonstrates our commitment to meeting deadlines and delivering on our promises. Aside from the InnovizTwo, CES attendees will be able to request a driven demo in our “Grizzly” vehicle and see the Las Vegas strip through the lens of InnovizOne.

My team is also laser-focused on safety and building trust with consumers. We commissioned consumer research this past year that found low consumer education about autonomous vehicles and significant discrepancies in levels of comfort and excitement about the autonomous vehicle future. It is our job as LiDAR experts to instil confidence in the fact that automated vehicles have the potential to reduce road collisions. We’re telling everyone at CES that LiDAR can see what cameras and humans cannot, and that redundancy can save lives. Innoviz was selected among other OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to participate in the LiDAR Sensor Standards Consortium, led by fka GmbH, a Germany-based research and engineering services company with a history of leading similar automotive testing-standards efforts. We plan to continue to demonstrate our commitment to road safety.

As the automotive industry shifts toward higher levels of driver autonomy, what are the opportunities for Innoviz?

Higher levels of autonomy require higher-performing LiDAR. It’s a good thing Innoviz produces the best LiDAR in the business! A major challenge for automakers is ensuring automated vehicles can detect small, low-reflectivity objects, like a tire, while driving at highway speeds. They must also consider impaired vision caused by weather, lighting, and road conditions, including slopes and curvatures from potholes or hills. Our newly announced InnovizTwo exceeds automakers’ performance needs, delivering an unmatched combination of range, resolution, and field of view, at 70 percent of the previous generation’s cost.

The Total Addressable Market (TAM) for InnovizTwo is expected to grow to over $20B by 2025 and $55B by 2030. Consumer cars are expected to make up ~70 percent of the TAM by 2030, and Innoviz is leading in the consumer car segment—we are the only certified automotive-grade high-performance LiDAR on the market. That’s why BMW chose us and there are big opportunities ahead. The TAM is even larger when considering non-automotive applications for logistics, heavy machinery, drones and aircraft, of which Innoviz has partners in each. The race to the top of the LiDAR market will be won by those that can deliver low-priced, high-performing, automotive-grade LiDARs to automotive OEMs. Innoviz can deliver on that.

How do you see the marketplace for LiDAR’s evolving?   

I think we’ll continue to see consolidation in the LiDAR market. Many LiDAR companies still have an Achilles heel—limitations in their ability to deliver the real-world specifications necessary for true Level 2+ driving. It requires a powerful combination of consistent automotive design wins, access to significant capital, and a will to push limits to survive in this market. We’re proud to have secured a spot in the top five but we’re gunning for the leading position. I believe we’ll see more acquisitions like Ouster’s in the coming years.

LiDAR companies will also be a key differentiator for autonomous vehicle companies. Waymo, for example, announced this year it’s no longer selling the LiDAR it developed in-house. Google is a formidable competitor, but I don’t think there are many autonomous vehicle companies out there that have resources the size of Google’s to develop a competitive LiDAR product in-house. LiDAR companies will continue to work more directly with automakers to create perception stacks that meet their unique needs, from LiDAR and perception software to manufacturing processes and facility designs. Innoviz is currently submitting for RFPs as a Tier 1 supplier because of all it can accomplish in-house.

Regulation is key. In a nod to German automotive superiority, Mercedes-Benz recently succeeded where others have failed. The German automaker is the first to receive internationally valid regulatory approval to produce vehicles with Level 3 autonomy. The Honda Legend is capable of Level 3 but is only available for lease in Japan. Audi almost reached Level 3, but the program fell apart due to conflicting legislation. As a member of the LiDAR Sensor Standards Consortium, Innoviz looks forward to playing a leading role in developing standards and regulations that guarantee safety for all road users.

Do you think there will be different applications for automotive LiDAR, e.g. short and long-range, blind-spot and front and back of a car?

Yes, absolutely. Each level of automation requires unique LiDAR configurations and requirements. The placement of the units on the roof or grill of a vehicle, the number of units per vehicle and the design of the LiDAR will vary. LiDAR for a Level 3 passenger vehicle, for example, will look different from a LiDAR for a Level 4 heavy-duty truck. When we design new LiDAR products, we keep those market demands in mind.

Ultimately, cost is king. You can’t just put five LiDARs on a car, that would cost a fortune and impact the aesthetics. When we’re working on LiDAR designs, we optimize for cost and size.

We hear that some companies are investigating or proposing some level of autonomy for cars without using LiDAR. Do you think LiDAR is mandatory for autonomous driving?

I think it’s less about the technology and more about the autonomous vehicle system’s performance. At Innoviz, we believe in certain performance parameters that deem an automated vehicle safe. These parameters are informed, and evolve regularly, based on our work with automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers.

Maybe one day we’ll see advancements in camera and radar technology to the point where they’ll be enough, but that’s not the case today. LiDAR is the only sensor stack that can see what cameras, radars, and the human eye cannot, making it critical for redundancy. Redundancy is mandatory for automated driving because redundancy saves lives.

We look forward to working with regulators to inform what performance standards will be. Until then, we design our LiDAR to meet metrics that legacy automakers require—and sometimes we even exceed expectations causing automakers to rethink their RFQs!

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?

In addition to LiDAR, Innoviz develops perception software that complements our hardware offerings and enables automated vehicles to accurately identify and classify objects (e.g. cars, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians) in any 3D driving scene up to 250 metres away. Our company’s Automotive Perception Platform – InnovizAPP is already shipping to selected automaker giants, helping them accelerate timelines for consumer automated vehicle programs globally.

Innoviz is focused on the automotive market. We’re on a mission to enable the mass production of safe autonomous vehicles, including robotaxis. However, our LiDAR is also a great fit for other applications that are close relatives of automotive, including transit shuttles, delivery vehicles, trucking, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. Additional applications include drones and UAVs, smart city infrastructure (connected buildings, security and monitoring, traffic management), HD mapping, critical infrastructure protection, and industrial applications. This year, we announced partnerships with Cron AI and Sensagrate for smart city solutions and as mentioned earlier, we just announced our partnership with Obayashi, a leading construction company in Japan.

2021 was another memorable year for everyone and for all sorts of reasons. We had a bumpy recovery from the worst of the Covid pandemic, but the automotive industry was also hammered by a shortage of semiconductor parts. In your business, what stands out as the biggest challenges you faced this year?

My team felt the impacts of COVID-19 the minute international transportation came to a screeching halt and restricted access to our partners and sub-suppliers. But we’re Israeli, so we quickly found a solution. Through digital manufacturing, we were able to ramp up our internal NPI lines. This made us less reliant on our sub-suppliers for parts, allowed us to mitigate risk, and stay resilient and operational despite supply chain shortages. Proof of our success is that we designed, built and introduced InnovizTwo within 18 months of InnovizOne.

All the changes we made during COVID-19 are permanent. Our business is better for it. In fact, if there’s one thing I regret, it’s that we didn’t develop our own automated production processes in house from day one. It allows us more control over the process as well as direct access to automakers to really understand and address their unique needs. That’s why our work with BMW has been so successful: the collaboration. It’s also better for the environment because it cuts down on shipping and transportation emissions. InnovizOne was designed in Germany where all of the European car market action is. We worked alongside BMW to understand local car makers’ problems with respect to production lines and design and automation needs. With InnovizTwo, we realized very quickly it needed to be designed, built and tested in Israel where we could iterate more quickly and travel less. We now have a “clean room” at our HQ right outside of Tel Aviv.

As I said before, we’re Israeli. Innovation and agility are in our nature so adjusting to a new reality wasn’t so new for us. I served in the Israeli Defense Forces in Unit 81 where you figure out how to solve challenges all the time. We’re more or less doing the same thing now but with carmakers, keeping our moral code and desire to save human lives in mind. Our manufacturing processes are now fully-automated and we just need to duplicate our existing machines elsewhere; we recently shipped one to the U.S. so our LiDARs can now officially be classified as “American made”.

How are you feeling about 2022 – both in terms of business prospects and more generally?

I’m quite optimistic for 2022. Since founding Innoviz with my buddies from the IDF—Oren Rosenzweig, our CBO and Oren Buskila, our CTO—our company and the autonomous vehicle market have made notable progress year-over-year. We went public this past year via a SPAC on the NASDAQ, and what it did for us was twofold. It injected a significant amount of cash into our activities, which is really important when you think about lengthy automotive manufacturing timelines. It also gave our customers, like BMW and others, confidence in our financial ability to deliver our products on time and to the exact specifications of some of the most rigorous standards in the world.

To end where I began, I imagine 2022 will be full of remarkable progress, new milestones, and a lot of excitement within the autonomous vehicle category. I cannot wait to see what happens next.

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