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Lidar, Cameras, Action: Not All Cars See the Same

NetworkNewsWire Editorial Coverage: People have been dreaming about self-driving cars for nearly as long as cars have been around, arguably even longer when considering da Vinci’s vision back in the 1500s. While the reality of fully autonomous vehicles remains in small pilot trials today, the industry is advancing in leaps and bounds as engineers add features and functionality by marrying leading edge technologies, including lidar, radar and cameras to help a car “see” and “react.” As with any other new tech, the new sensors are getting smaller and more accurate while dropping in price, factors that facilitate scalability for autonomous driving features from only a few high-end vehicle models to mass market vehicles. Leading the charge towards safe self-driving cars is Cepton Inc. (NASDAQ: CPTN) (Profile), a maker of lidar (an acronym for “light detection and ranging”) products that are being incorporated by some of the world’s biggest auto makers, including GM’s vaunted Ultra Cruise program that will allow hands-free driving on more roads in North America than ever before. It appears evident that autonomous vehicles will become mainstream, which has automakers and tech firms alike, including QUALCOMM Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM), Aptiv PLC (NYSE: APTV), NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), hustling to secure a share in the burgeoning mobility market.

  • Cepton’s patented micro-motion technology lidar products overcome the tetralogy of ADAS challenges: performance, cost, reliability and integration.
  • Cepton lidar system has been selected for use in GM’s Ultra Cruise feature, representing the world’s biggest contract win in the lidar industry for ADAS applications.
  • Cepton has 160-plus projects in motion and is in conversations with each of the top-10 automotive original equipment makers, such as Ford, GM and Toyota.
  • Koito Manufacturing, a top global automotive tier-1 supplier, has made two substantial investments in Cepton since 2020.

AVs Hitting the Accelerator

The day of full-on autonomous vehicles goes through advanced driver assistance systems (“ADAS”). Unfortunately, hyperbole in social media has resulted in confusion as to the different levels of ADAS and their capabilities. Companies calling their technology “self-driving” or “autopilot” only adds to misunderstanding the difference between Society of Automotive Engineers (“SAE”) Level 0 (person driving full-time) and SAE Level 5 (vehicle driving itself under any condition).

To date, in excess of 80 companies are experimenting with self-driving vehicles, which seems destined to lead to AVs one day cruising on everything from back roads to highways. Interest is expected to come via consumers and companies alike. Research by automaker Nissan shows that 55% of small businesses believe they will operate fully autonomous fleets within two decades.

A major force behind safe autonomous driving is lidar, which uses a small optical sensor and pulses of light to create a continuously updating, three-dimensional map of the surrounding area. Lidar is growing in popularity among automotive original equipment manufacturers (“OEMs”) because it has qualities that radar and cameras are unable to achieve today. Advancements in lidar represent a significant progression in autonomous driving, subsequently fueling a surge in interest in publicly-traded lidar technology companies.

Cepton Inc. (NASDAQ: CPTN) has made a splash on the scene in recent weeks, going public via special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”) and showcasing its highly differentiated lidar technology and impressive portfolio of partners. The company sets itself apart from peers with its micro-motion technology (“MMT”) that has solved many challenges such as expense, performance, reliability, and vehicle integration for the ADAS and the AV markets.

The Silicon Valley-based company offers a robust portfolio of hardware and software lidar solutions, complete with proprietary application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC, a customized integrated circuit chip) and all requisite optoelectronic parts. Cepton’s products consist of Vista X, Vista T, Vista P and Nova. Cepton offers its products at a price that is a fraction of that of its competitors, a fact that further adds to the appeal for car makers.

Part of the genius of MMT(R) lidar is that Cepton didn’t overcomplicate things. The company relies on OSRAM’s 905 nm wavelength lasers, which are affordable, available proven tech that deliver high brightness with low power consumption in a Time of Flight (“TOF”) lidar system to map the surroundings. MMT reduces risk of parts wearing out because, unlike competitors, the award-winning system doesn’t use any rotating parts or mirrors. Furthermore, Cepton hit a home run by developing the first and only lidar system that can be placed behind the windshield, making it ideal for mass deployment across multiple vehicle models. Add the features up and it shouldn’t be a surprise that automotive OEMs and tier-1 suppliers are wanting to work with Cepton.

Tier 1 Partners for NASDAQ’s Newest Lidar Play

Cepton has the ear of the world’s top OEMs, from vehicle to parts suppliers. The company is in discussions with the likes of General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Stellantis (maker of Chrysler, Dodge, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and more), Volkswagen, Hyundai and other leading car makers. While vehicles may be the low-hanging fruit at the moment, the utility of lidar is boundless, which has Cepton exploring opportunities in smart industrials, smart cities, robotics and even trucking markets.

Cepton currently has more than 43 automotive engagements and 126 smart infrastructure engagements, information that supports its estimate of $1.22 billion in revenue in 2026.

Japan’s Koito Manufacturing, a tier 1 automotive lighting manufacturer, has put its confidence in Cepton on full display. In the last two years, Koito has invested in Cepton twice, including a $50 million investment ahead of Cepton going public in February. Cepton became a public entity trading on the NASDAQ last month, ringing Nasdaq’s opening bell on Feb. 17, 2022, which caught the attention of Wall Street as evidenced by shares spiking from around $10 (typical SPAC pricing) to as high as $80.16 before settling into a range that should have investors’ attention again.

Ultra Cruise: The Next Generation Is Driverless Mobility

Cepton’s founders knew exactly where they were going with the company, assembling a team with unique skillset specifically for the purpose of developing a lidar system for the mass markets. Management checked that box with its technology vetted and validated by the premier companies in the automotive industry.

The partnership with Koito resulted in the series production award from General Motors where Cepton lidar sensors will be used in upcoming GM models featuring its new Ultra Cruise package. In comparison to other lidar series production deals disclosed in the auto industry, the Cepton deal is exponentially larger, which has Cepton optimistic about more awards in the future.

Ultra Cruise is recognized as a true market breakthrough in General Motors’ quest for no crashes, pollution or congestion. Featuring 360-degree perception and a combination of lidar, radar and cameras, Ultra Cruise is a technological progression to GM’s popular Super Cruise feature that is limited only to some highway use. Slated to be available in 2023 on select models, Ultra Cruise is expected to eventually enable hands-free driving on more than 2 million miles of roads in North America, or 95% of all driving scenarios. With intentions to add new models in the coming years, Cepton’s lidar will be the first ever used in mass markets.

More Than Just Auto

Lidar has been around for about 60 years, invented shortly after the first laser. Developed by NASA, lidar first appeared in the 1970s for use in space applications, including measuring distance between objects. Much like Temper foam, infrared ear thermometers, cell phone cameras and other products invented by NASA, lidar is making its way into everyday uses. These opportunities are not eluding the Cepton management team.

As mentioned, Cepton has more than 160 collaborations in motion in its pipeline. Recently, the company has announced a partnership with security solution provider Bowler Pons Solutions Consultants LLC pursuant to which Cepton’s MMT Vista(R)-P sensors are being used to launch a cutting-edge, lidar-enabled 3D monitoring system. Cepton has also this month teamed up with Fibre Based Integrations, an established fiber optics systems supplier, to develop lidar-based vehicle detection solutions in Cape Town, South Africa, to enable smart transportation infrastructure citywide.

Many Winners on Tap

The U.S. Department of Transportation notes five eras of safety on the road to full automation. Benefits abound when self-driving technologies are fully realized, including the potential to improve equality, emissions, accessibility and traffic congestion, not to mention reducing the number of vehicular accidents that claimed more than 36,000 lives in 2019. Many companies in the space are committed to making this a reality, as they work independently and jointly to make autonomous vehicles a reality available to all.

QUALCOMM Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM) is a household name in the automotive chip industry and a constant source of developments in the evolution of premium driving experiences and connected in-vehicle services. In addition to being the key supplier of computer platform to General Motor’s Ultra Cruise program and working with companies such as Volvo and Honda, QUALCOMM has also partnered with BMW Group to bring the latest advancements in driver assistance technologies and products of its Snapdragon Ride(TM) Platform to BMW Group’s next generation of ADAS and automated driving platforms.

Aptiv PLC (NYSE: APTV), a global technology company focused on making mobility safer, greener and more connected, recently agreed to acquire Wind River(R) from TPG Capital, the private equity platform of global alternative asset management firm TPG, for $4.3 billion in cash. Wind River’s edge-to-cloud software portfolio spans the aerospace and defense, telecommunications, industrial and automotive markets and is anchored by Wind River Studio, a highly versatile, comprehensive cloud-native intelligent systems software platform that enables full product lifecycle management for edge-to-cloud use cases.

NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA) has leveraged its decades in computing, imaging and artificial intelligence to build a software-defined, end-to-end platform for the transportation industry that enables continuous improvement and deployment through over-the-air updates. The company has partnerships with OEMs such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, NIO and Jaguar Land Rover. Starting in 2025, all new Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles will be built on the NVIDIA DRIVE(TM) software-defined platform — from the cloud ,built on NVIDIA data-center solutions, to the car, powered by NVIDIA DRIVE Orin(TM).

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation. In a report titled “Our Approach to Automated Driving System Safety,” the company noted that it is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation. In particular, “we believe that automated driving systems (“ADS”) have the promise to greatly enhance the human experience in three key areas: improving road safety, increasing mobility, and realizing broader societal benefits.” The report notes that the sense component of the company’s autonomy system “is able to determine where the vehicle is located in the world and can identify and track surrounding objects, such as other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. This is accomplished using a combination of sensors, including LiDAR, radar, and cameras, and provides high-resolution 360-degree 3D coverage around the vehicle.”

The world is experiencing an automotive industry transformation that is only paralleled by the transition to automobiles from horse and buggy. The self-driving evolution has begun, and someday in the not-too-distant future, people may be climbing into the back of a driverless taxi or choosing whether or not they want to drive or let the car drive. And it will all be possible thanks to technology such as lidar and scores of brilliant minds making it all happen.

For more information about Cepton Inc., please visit Cepton Inc.

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