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  1. Interview
August 26, 2021

How LiDAR is paving the way for AVs – Q&A with Quanergy

LiDAR has been hailed as the most significant auto safety technology since the seat belt and should be commonplace in new car models in the next few years. To learn more about the whys and wherefores of LiDAR, we caught up with Tianyue Yu, Chief Development Officer & Co-Founder, and Enzo Signore, CMO of Quanergy.

By Matthew Beecham

Could you tell us a little about Quanergy, the shape it is in today and its aims for the next 12 months? 

Enzo: Quanergy has about 100 people, mostly in engineering, dedicated to developing very innovative LiDAR solutions for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the automotive market. As far as our capital structure, we have recently announced our intentions of going public through a SPAC business combination with CITIC Capital.

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? 

Tianyue: Our optical phased array based LiDAR is true solid-state without any moving parts enabling very high reliability. The technology is also based on a mature CMOS semiconductor process with custom-designed emitter and detector chips. At volume, this technology platform would follow a semiconductor cost trajectory and accelerate the market penetration. What this solid-state LIDAR innovation brings, given its high reliability and low cost, is ultimately in the long term at high volume, the most efficient way to support the photons to insights vision. So, it is our fundamental belief that OPA based solid-state LiDAR is the linchpin to LiDAR democratisation.

We understand that solid-state LiDAR is cheaper than rotating mechanics. Could you give us an idea of how much your solid-state LiDAR units cost (a range) in mass production and how you can democratise LiDAR? 

TY: Quanergy’s S3 Series LiDAR sensor is designed to meet the most stringent automotive requirements for object detection and collision avoidance. The sensor’s unique electronic beam steering without any moving parts offers immunity to shock and vibration. The S3 Series provides over 100,000 hours MTBF (mean time between failures), and it is targeting a price of $500 for mass-market production.

ADAS is a fast-evolving landscape. While we are seeing an acceleration of level 1 and 2 driving automation, there are delays in higher levels due to the lack of an established regulatory framework and the technical challenge of providing safety in all driving situations. In terms of Level 2+ for cars in the near future, how do you see the market evolving?

TY: We share a similar observation that higher-level automation of L2+ is generally delayed. In addition to the need of establishing a regulatory framework and overcoming the technical challenges, another driving force is that the automotive industry itself is currently emerging through an electrification revolution and experiencing major transformations. The automation revolution is occurring in parallel with a slight offset after the electrification revolution.

We understand that Quanergy is now in a position to offer Optical Phased Array (OPA) LiDAR technology to OEMs. What does this mean for the further development of autonomous vehicles? Where else can OPA be applied?

TY: Quanergy had recently publically announced that the Optical Phased Array (OPA) LiDAR had demonstrated the 100m detection range for 10% target under bright sunlight conditions and we are on the way to reach 200m detection range. These are significant technological milestones. We believe OPA-based solid-state LiDAR is the most suitable architecture for use in large volume automotive applications, due to its high reliability, low cost and compact size. These attributes are certainly desirable in many other markets, for example, industrial automation, robotics, AGVs, etc. Quanergy had commercialised released S3-2 people counter for flow management application in 2020, which was the very first market introduction of OPA solid-state LiDAR technology.

Cameras have become almost universal in cars compared to a decade ago. How do you see the marketplace for LiDAR evolving?   

TY: It took decades for the camera technology to be deployed universally in cars and beyond. We foresee LiDAR technology following a similar trend of adoption. LiDAR is the best 3D data intake device with centimetre accuracy for both spatial and depth resolution. Unlike cameras/videos that compress the 3D world to 2D representation, LiDAR opens up a completely new dimension of context. With the technological advancement of OPA solid-state LiDAR technology, a path to LiDAR’s ubiquitous deployment in cars becomes ultimately feasible based on this low cost and high-reliability platform.

What other sector opportunities for LiDAR technologies are you serving?  

Enzo: Apart from Automotive, the largest opportunity for LiDAR is for the IoT market including industrial, physical security, smart cities, and mapping.  For instance, we are working on many critical infrastructure projects where our LiDAR solution is complementing and improving existing perimeter intrusion detection systems thanks to our longer range and higher accuracy, enabling security systems to identify intruders 70 m away and with a significant reduction in false alarms.

The last 18 months have been pretty memorable for everyone. In your business, what stands out as the biggest challenges you faced?  And what did you learn that you did not expect to learn? 

Enzo: You are right – the last year and a half has been challenging for every organization and family around the globe. It emphasised how our lives and economies are all interconnected but also highlighted how resilient and resourceful companies and individuals are. For instance, despite having been locked out of our office for a very long time, our engineering team brought to market 10 products, more than the previous 2 years combined.

TY: Last 18 months was a period of transformation at Quanergy. The organisation not only experienced a leadership transition at the beginning of 2020 but also withstood the prolonged test of pandemic disruption in 2020 and emerged as a stronger and more unified entity. The biggest challenge at the time was to navigate through the uncertainties at multiple fronts, including employee safety, facility closure, regulatory constraints and overall business standstill at a global scale. The team quickly adjusted the strategies by prioritising the software solutions for productisation and focusing the sensor development on signal processing and data analysis which relied less on physical facility usage. The year 2020 turned out to be a record year of product releases for Quanergy, which became a testimony of vigilant leadership, relentless execution and great teamwork.

What is Quanergy doing to mitigate the semiconductor chip shortage?   

TY: Quanergy’s proprietary semiconductor components are custom designed by our design team and fabricated by our supply chain partners. These are not impacted by the general semiconductor chip shortage. For many off-the-shelf electrical circuit board components, we start to experience shortages and supply challenges. Our supply chain team and design team are working closely to monitor the availability, manage the lead time and design alternate paths.

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