The stock listing frenzy in 2020 by high-tech transportation companies via SPAC mergers isn’t yet finished as Silicon Valley startup Aeva, a maker of sensors for self-driving vehicles that blend capabilities of laser lidar, cameras and radar, is heading for the New York Stock Exchange in a deal that pushes its valuation to just over $2 billion.
The Mountain View, California-based company, founded by two former Apple
“We went into this with some skepticism about how many lidar companies are out there and came out of the first meeting recognizing a completely different kind of business–a perception company focusing well beyond the automotive space,” InterPrivate CEO founder Ahmed Fattouh tells Forbes. “The pedigree of the team, coming from Apple, having knowledge of a variety of different consumer, consumer health and industrial applications that go well beyond the automotive, that really set it all apart.”
Lidar’s ability to provide highly detailed 3D images make it a critical technology for self-driving cars to accurately see the world, but it’s relatively expensive and brings technological challenges in terms of seamless integration with the digital cameras and radar robotics vehicles also use. In comparison with lidar industry heavyweights such as Velodyne and Luminar–which are both also listing shares via SPAC deals–Aeva positions its sensors as a “4D” system that integrates lidar functions into a single silicon chip but that can also measure velocity.
Instead of pulsing a laser beam that bounces off of objects in a vehicle’s path to determine distance and depth, Aeva’s system emits a continuous, low-power laser beam that measures changes in the frequency of waves reflected off of objects. The approach provides better data than traditional lidar and doesn’t interfere with other sensors, says cofounder Soroush Salehian.
“We actually measure velocity very similar to radar. And with velocity, we can get for every single point or pixel all the way up to the 300 or 400 maximum range. We get this down to centimeter per second precision, which fundamentally changes how you view perception,” he said. “It’s as if you went from black and white cameras to color cameras. For your understanding of the world, everything changes. When you go from having a new dimension of measurement capability, everything changes. That’s exactly what we have provided.”
The company raised more than $100 million prior to its listing announcement, according to PitchBook. It estimates the valuation should be approximately $2.1 billion from the sale of new shares and funds related to the merger with InterPrivate.
So far, Aeva has lined up commercial partnerships with Porsche and parts giant ZF, and may soon have additional deals to disclose, Salehian said. Revenue this year will be in the “single-digit million dollars” range but should rise to $800 million annually by 2025 as commercial supply deals kick in.
Individual units of Aeva’s sensor, a bit larger than a deck of playing cards, will sell for “a few hundred dollars,” Salehian said. While automotive applications have been the early focus for Aeva, it’s increasingly looking to work with consumer tech and health-care companies that need biometric data tools.
“We measure velocity down to centimeters per second when we talk about hundreds of meters of range for vehicles, but the exact same chip-level technology, with less range but increased processing, can measure with micron-level accuracy,” he said. “That means measuring vibrations.”
For example, if you pointed an Aeva sensor at someone’s skin, “we start understanding things around biometrics, typical things like heart rate and maybe more complex things over time like arteriosclerosis.”
Such information would be gathered from a sensor beam, rather than a device that connects to the body. “To my knowledge, we are the only company that can provide such a unique on-chip lidar technology that can measure with high range performance that also has consumer applications,” Salehian said, without identifying potential new partners.