Infineon buys startup to gain lidar expertise
Innoluce, a spin-off from Dutch electric giant Royal Philips, sells a platform of solid-state laser scanning modules which are based on resonant MEMS mirrors and integrated with the related signal processing circuitry. From Infineon’s perspective, the Nijmegen-based startup is probably an ideal match for its existing portfolio of sensors for advanced driver assistance systems and automated vehicles.
Traditionally, Infineon is providing ICs for radar sensors and sells its chips to high-volume radar sensor manufacturers such as Bosch, Continental and TRW. In contrast to radar, lidar is used in the automated driving context as a short-range sensor that however generates high-resolution “point clouds” that are used to determine distance and direction to obstacles and roadside objects. Since lidar is widely recognized as being complementary to radar technology, it can be expected that carmakers will equip future highly automated vehicles with lidar sensors.
So far lidar has been regarded as a rather expensive technology; the lidar sensor on the roof of the famous early “Google car” is estimated to have a price comparable to a compact car. Though this price level has significantly decreased over the past couple of years, it is likely that Innoluce’s technology will help to make lidar systems really compatible to the demand of high-volume vehicle manufacturers. The reason: Traditionally, lidar systems require highly precise mechanical mirror systems to deflect, focus and direct the laser beam. MEMS-based lidar systems can be much cheaper because the mechanic part is reduced to the cost-effective MEMS chip. At the same time, such sensors would be more robust and compact.
“The Innoluce takeover is a major step for us in the lidar technology”, said Peter Schiefer who oversees Infineon’s automotive electronics business. Schiefer added that it is Infineon’s goal to make lidar “a cost-effective option for every new vehicle on the globe”.
Innoluce’s technology makes use of what the company calls 1D MEMS mirrors. The company claims that they offer a large number of benefits over traditional 2D MEMS systems: Higher horizontal resolution and field of view, better temperature stability, lower sensitivity to vibrations, smaller volume and lower cost. Plus, the 1D mirror movements is easier to control, Innoluce says. The only drawback: While 2D MEMS mirrors can be controlled both with electrostatic and electromagnetic signals, Innoluce’s 1D technology needs electrostatic controls in any case.
Besides automotive, the devices from Innoluce serve industrial and medical markets.
Infineon did not disclose the acquisition price.
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