Sense Photonics jumps into self-driving fray with new sensor technology

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Sense Photonics has developed new detection technology that hits a key milestone required for self-driving cars, the laser sensor company said on Friday.

The company led by automotive industry veteran and former Google executive Shauna McIntyre is developing a lidar sensor that uses laser light to help autonomous vehicles gain a three-dimensional view of the road.

Sense told Reuters its new technology can sense objects from 200 meters, or about 650 feet.

Industry analysts believe that lidar could become a key component of advanced vehicles in coming years as a complement to cameras and radar-based sensors.

The 200 meter range is a benchmark many lidar businesses have set for highway driving as they seek tie-ups with automotive manufacturers.

At least five lidar companies, including Velodyne Lidar and Luminar Technologies, have either become publicly listed since last year or are in the process of doing so, all through reverse mergers with publicly listed blank check firms.

But Sense, which was founded in 2016 and has raised $40 million from Samsung Ventures and Shell Ventures, has kept a lower profile.

The company hired McIntyre as chief executive last year. She had begun her career in a Ford factory, also worked for Honeywell International’s turbocharger business and oversaw Alphabet Inc’s Google Maps automotive programs.

McIntyre said Sense’s technology is designed to use no moving parts, eliminating the need for precise alignment of sensors’ laser emitters and detectors, which is proprietary to the company and uses what is called a single-photon avalanche diode.

Sense’s target price for the new sensors will be “in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands, for high-volume automotive applications”, she told Reuters.

“We are talking to automakers now for 2024 start of production,” she said, declining to name the company’s partners.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by David Goodman