Continental Expands LiDAR Technology Portfolio by Investing in AEye

Auburn Hills-based technology company Continental has strengthened its LiDAR sensor portfolio through a minority investment in LiDAR pioneer AEye Inc. in Dublin, Calif.
LiDAR imaging
Continental has strengthening its LiDAR sensor portfolio through a minority investment in LiDAR pioneer AEye Inc. of California. // Photo courtesy of Continental

Auburn Hills-based technology company Continental has strengthened its LiDAR sensor portfolio through a minority investment in LiDAR pioneer AEye Inc. in Dublin, Calif.

LiDAR sensors are key technologies for automated driving.

AEye has developed a long-range LiDAR technology combining an amplifiable 1550nm laser with a patented feedback-controlled microelectromechanical system scanner. This technology can be configured via software and thus be optimized for manufacturers vehicle and applications, says AEye.

The AEye LiDAR, according to the company, offers maximum leverage for passenger and commercial vehicle applications because it combines high dynamic spatial resolution with long-range detection. Vehicles can be detected at a distance of nearly 1,000 feet and pedestrians at a distance of more than 650 feet.

AEye’s ability to detect small, low-reflective objects, such as bricks, at 524 feet with multiple measuring points is pivotal for automated driving in both passenger cars and commercial vehicles, according to the company.

Continental will utilize this LiDAR technology and industrialize the sensor to deliver a fully automotive-grade product. The first series production is currently scheduled for the end of 2024.

By partnering with AEye, Continental complements its existing short-range 3-D Flash LiDAR technology, which goes into series production later this year, supporting highly automated driving in a global premium vehicle program. This start of production of the high-resolution 3-D Flash LiDAR is a key milestone, according to Continental. It is the first high-resolution solid-state LiDAR sensor to go into series production in the automotive market worldwide.

“We now have optimum short-range and world-class long-range LiDAR technologies with their complimentary set of benefits under one roof,” says Frank Petznick, head of the advanced driver assistance systems business unit at Continental. “This puts us in a strong position to cover the full vehicle environment with state-of-the-art LiDAR sensor technology and to facilitate automated driving at SAE levels 3 or higher in both passenger cars and commercial vehicle applications.”

Blair LaCorte, CEO of AEye, “ADAS solutions require a unique mix of performance, scalability, packaging, and a long-term commitment to reliability and safety. Continental is a recognized leader in automotive sensing technology as well as in automotive product industrialization and commercialization. We look forward to working closely with their team to customize our modular and scalable design to deliver Continentals high-performance long-range LiDAR systems to the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers.”

Automated vehicles capable of AD SAE level 3 or higher require a sensor setup that includes camera, radar, and LiDAR to detect objects and usable trajectories around the vehicle. LiDAR sensors offer the strength of robust 3-D pixel level detection at high resolution. Continental uses tailored automotive-grade LiDAR technology for both short- and long-range sensing.

For the short range, 3-D Flash LiDAR technology offers 3-D pixel images very quickly and precisely by illuminating and capturing an entire scene in one pulse per frame of data (global shutter technology).

Commercial vehicles with their large mass and longer stopping distance face special challenges to enable safe automated driving, says Continental. Automation for these vehicles will require a maximum sensor range and resolution to ensure sufficient processing time for automated decisions and actions.

“By bringing leading edge technology together from all three environmental sensor areas, we are creating synergetic effects that will benefit the vehicle manufacturers,” Petznick says. “Continental has vast expertise in all three sensor technologies and in software development. Access to 1550nm MEMS LiDAR technology is another step in this successful sensor strategy.”