Ex-Apple technicians show the self-steering autosensor of their startup

SAN FRANCISCO: Two former Apple Inc. engineers on Monday gave new details about the sensor system of their start-up company, Aeva Inc., to show self-driving cars the world around them.

Aeva was founded by Soroush Salehian and Mina Rezk, who both left Apple's Special Projects Group, where the self-driving car work of the iPhone maker is housed. Aeva is working on a device that allows cars to see the road, vehicles, pedestrians and other environments a few hundred meters away. It would be a critical link in self-driving technology, including software and controls from others.

In a warehouse in San Francisco last week, the Aeva device was mounted on a white Audi sports car parked on a fake road. In real time, it took pictures of Aeva workers who sniffed around on kick-scooters, where the images of the employees changed color as they walked to the vehicle or left.

In other self-driving car systems, such data comes from separate sensors from different suppliers. Radar measures speed, the so-called "lidar" measures the depth and standard cameras record digital images that can analyze the car's computer. The streams must be mixed in a step called "sensor fusion".

Aeva strives to combine these functions in one device and to skip the external "merger" step. The device has sensors for movement, depth, speed and reflected light and contains an artificial intelligence chip that weaves it together.

"Because we have built this technology from scratch, we have unique access to the data deep in the hardware," Salehian told Reuters in an interview.

Aeva ends up in a crowded field of sensor companies that sell to car manufacturers. One of the new Audi sedans from Volkswagen AG has a laser scanner from Valeo. BMW Group has linked the Israeli startup Innoviz Technologies around a new sensor. Ford Motor Co. invested US $ 75 million in Velodyne, a long-term Lidoca maker.

Established companies currently have the most sensors on the road, said Angelos Lakrintis, an autonomous vehicle analyst at Strategy Analytics. But "there is still some time" for newcomers to convince car manufacturers, because self-propelled cars are only massively in the middle of the 2020 "," he said.

Automakers are sensitive to costs. Some depth sensors use expensive custom laser chips. Aeva would not reveal which chips it uses or the final cost, but said it has avoided expensive parts.

"We do not need powerful lasers anymore," Rezk told Reuters. "We use laser sources and sensors that are already in mass production."

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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