Since hitting the market with its first-generation solid-state multibeam lidar technology in 2013, Belgium’s Xenomatix has transformed itself into an established tier-2 supplier in the automotive sector. Now, with some new investment and lofty goals, the lidar specialist is going to market with its next generation of lidar solutions as it ramps up for mass production.
Just six years ago, Xenomatix was a garage-based startup working to develop its solid-state lidar technology. Taking its cues from Velodyne’s lidar and autonomous-driving pioneer Google, with its bulky spinning scanner on the roof of the car, the Leuven-based company knew exactly which path it didn’t want to take. Rather than incremental innovation, it set its sights on changing the lidar game.
“For so many lidar companies, the focus has been to simply shrink the size of Velodyne’s scanning mechanism. Not only is such a moving scanner limited in its accuracy, but it’s just not nice to look at,” says Xenomatix CEO Filip Geuens. “Our focus, however, was finding a way to fit within the beautiful design of automobiles and eliminate this spinning scanner, instead using discrete semiconductor technology to create multiple laser beams that build the grid without scanning.”
In 2018, the startup hit a big milestone when it released the first generation of the long-range Xenolidar. The 100-percent CMOS-based lidar utilized 5,000 laser beams and a global shutter design to digitize both indoor and outdoor environments, no matter light, clouds or weather conditions. Based on silicon and with no moving part, the company met its ambitious goal to drastically improve on Velodyne’s spinning scanner and created a true solid-state lidar system.
Now, having spent the last several years perfecting its craft and building relationships with a number of tier-1 automotive suppliers, Xenomatix seems to be hitting its stride, having both established itself on the second tier of the supply chain, and just recently rolling out two new products in its next generation of the Xenolidar-X family – the medium-range Xact and the long-range Xpert devices that combine high resolution and broad fields of view for very precise localization and classification of objects.
“After years of refining the concept and improving the electronics, it’s a good feeling to go to market with the fifth generation of the Xenolidar. Not only have we increased the optical power output and enhanced scanning precision by tripling the number of lasers to 15,000, but we also achieved this while simultaneously reducing energy consumption to half of the previous version,” lauds Geuens. “At the same time, we’ve really been working to get a foot in the door with several tier-1 suppliers, like Marelli, which focuses on lighting systems for vehicles, and AGC Automotive, which delivers roughly 25 percent of the windshields used by OEM carmakers.”
Of course, building relationships with tier-1 suppliers doesn’t happen overnight. Especially in the demanding automotive market, where simply getting their attention is a challenge, let alone when you’re looking to challenge the status quo – another sign of just how fast the Belgian company has built its reputation and generated buy-in.
“These companies are incredibly demanding. They get stuck listening to a number of lidar companies, each with their own pitch,” describes Geuens. “But to be blunt, there has been a lot of bullshit in the lidar market. A lot of wannabe companies that make promises well beyond the limits of the laws of physics. That really makes it difficult for tier ones and OEMs to see the forest through the trees. We like to be less noisy and just let our technology do the talking.”
Though you might not hear it, Xenomatix’s technology and its business plans seem to be talking in volumes – at least to investors. Having proven its commitment to becoming a tier-2 supplier and its focus on meeting key automotive requirements like reliability, manufacturability and cost reduction, the company was awarded 10 million euros in new funding from a group of nine different investors – including two international investment funds, BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity and Capricorn Fusion China Fund.
With this infusion of cash, the Leuven lidar expert is looking to accelerate its plans to reach the next phase of its growth plan – mass production. “Our goal is to be in mass production vehicles by 2024. Our tier-1 partnerships will be critical to achieving this, as they have the long-standing relationships with the OEMs,” explains Geuens. “And to get our new technology more widely accepted within the automotive market, that’s what it will take. By working with multiple tier ones, we’re really aiming for those mass-production contracts to show how our technology can contribute to the shift in the automotive sector toward more advanced driver-assistance systems and ultimately autonomous driving.”