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OPTO Sessions AEye’s Bob Brown on why LiDAR is the future for autonomous vehicles and robotics

Bob Brown is the chief financial officer (CFO) at AEye, a company building imaging technology based on a laser scanning system called LiDAR.

He talked to Opto Sessions about its differentiators from other companies, including the depth of management that AEye enjoys, unlike other technology companies of its size. Brown has more than 30 years of financial experience, completing more than $20bn in financing and M&A transactions, and a rich history of working in C-level positions at various other LiDAR companies.

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The company’s founders have backgrounds in the aerospace and defence industries, which is a major part of AEye’s heritage. Brown said that the company follows an Apple-like business model in which it is researching and creating the blueprints of its technology but outsourcing production to contract manufacturers. “We’re not going to build factories… we don’t have to carry all that working capital. We don’t have to put concrete in the ground and build all that stuff ourselves. We’re going to work with people that are already well established in those areas and use those existing value chains.”

“We’re going to be licensing our technology to Continental [CON.DE], and then they’ll actually build and design the actual box that will be sold to the OEM,” Brown said. Continental’s factory is likely to begin production in 2024.

LiDAR, Brown explains, is like the eyes of an autonomous vehicle. It calculates a distance by measuring the time and angles it takes for laser rays to bounce back from objects. AEye has developed the technology based on low-end photons, which are not harmful to human health. Moreover, it reduces blinding from sunlight, which is a bigger problem for cameras.

“We’re not going to build factories… we don’t have to carry all that working capital”

The company is aware that commercial use of its LiDAR technology is around two years away, and mass adoption may take even longer, but it is increasingly accepted as an imperative part of autonomous vehicles, particularly large ones like trucks. “We’re not expecting huge penetration over the next couple of years. Initially, it’ll start in some of the higher end vehicles, and then it will grow from there.”

LiDAR, as a technology, outstrips cameras and radars in its ability to perceive the depth of field, making it a superior technology for autonomous vehicles. “You can imagine how useful that would be for trucking because these are obviously very large vehicles with long stopping distances. It’s not like your passenger vehicle… [these] vehicles require a lot of time to stop, particularly when they’re loaded.” This is an area that AEye is “particularly well suited to address”, Brown said. 

Another important aspect of AEye’s technology is that it is driven by software with reusable hardware. Brown explained that by pushing software, the same equipment could serve multiple purposes. The company demonstrated its technology to trace the path of a bullet. “We really did that bullet tracking demo just through software. That’s our standard off the shelf platform, and we just modified the software on the fly to configure it differently.” That allowed the device to track the bullet. “It really shows the versatility of the system.”

The solution’s applications are many and far-reaching. A major prospect is traffic systems. “Anywhere you’ve got a traffic light, you could potentially put a LIDAR … Because municipalities [would] want to be able to manage traffic flow more accurately,” Brown said.

The technology alone will not be sufficient to serve the security needed at the consumer level, and Brown added that cameras, radar, and ultrasonic technologies would remain complementary to AEye’s LiDAR.

 

For more insights from Bob Brown, listen to the episode on Opto Sessions.

 

And for more ways to listen:

 

Listen to the full interview and explore our past episodes on Opto Sessions.

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