Continental buys stake in lidar startup Aeye

DETROIT (Reuters) - German auto supplier Continental AG CONG.DE said on Tuesday it is buying a minority stake in California lidar startup Aeye Inc to strengthen its position in the market for automated driving systems.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Continental AG, a German automotive manufacturing company specialized in tyres, brakes and car safety products is pictured on a rim at the company's stand during the Hannover Fair in Hanover, Germany, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Aeye specializes in long-range laser vision sensors, or lidar, that can discern vehicles in the road up to 300 meters away, or spot a brick in the road 160 meters away.

Continental can add that capability to short-range lidar, camera and radar sensor technology it already has as it competes to equip vehicles due out in the middle of the decade with systems that can automate highway driving.

Continental and Aeye did not disclose the size of the stake the German supplier will acquire, or its cost.

Aeye Chief Executive Officer Blair LaCorte said in an interview that the two companies will work together to compete for contracts being decided over the next year to equip vehicles that will launch in 2024 and 2025 with systems designed to automate highway driving.

The cost of lidar technology is on a steep decline that makes it more realistic for consumer vehicles, LaCorte and Gunnar Juergens, head of Continental’s lidar business unit, said.

“We must be below $1,000” per vehicle, Juergens said.

Continental’s first priority is the premium light vehicle market, “and the next step would be to apply (technology) to commercial vehicles,” Juergens said. “We will see vehicles coming in 2025.”

Tesla Inc TSLA.O Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has said lidar is not necessary to enable automated driving. But rival automakers and major suppliers such as Continental are pushing ahead with efforts to slash the cost of laser vision sensors that can compensate when snow, fog or glaring sun blind camera sensors or radar.

“You want to have lidar on board” when enabling a vehicle to drive itself on a highway, Juergens said.

Reporting By Joe White in Detroit; Editing by Bernard Orr