ZF partners with Aeva to produce self-driving sensors

SAN FRANCISCO — German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen and Silicon Valley startup Aeva are partnering on a crucial sensor for self-driving vehicles, the companies said on Tuesday.

Lidar sensors, which measure distances with a laser light, help autonomous cars get a three-dimensional picture of the road ahead. Dozens of companies have been working to reduce the sensors’ cost to enable mass production.

Aeva’s sensor uses frequency modulated continuous wave, or FMCW, technology which can also detect the speed of distant objects, differentiating between stationary ones like trees from moving objects like bikes.

Under the partnership, Aeva will be responsible for core sensing functionality, performance and algorithms. ZF will produce an “automotive grade” sensor that meets automakers’ requirements.

The companies did not name potential customers, but they aim to produce the sensors by 2023 or 2024, Aeva CEO Soroush Salehian said in an interview.

“As we’ve come down from autonomous overall hype, and we’re actually getting down to business, there’s a clear focus on creating products that are going to be commercially viable in the short term,” Salehian said.

One of Aeva’s major technology developments was designing an FMCW lidar that could be built using standard silicon semiconductor equipment and processes rather than costlier methods.

In a statement, Torsten Gollewski, executive vice president of autonomous mobility solutions at ZF, said the company would use Aeva’s technology and experience in making car optical sensors to mass produce sensors tough enough for roads outside of test situations.

“‘Automotive Grade’ will become a quality seal, necessary for a solid business model of all autonomous vehicle software stack providers,” he said.

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