Instead of pursuing development of a better lidar sensor, while also pursuing the SPAC market, start-up Red Leader is making a play on the industry with a different approach: focus on improving lidar software, not hardware, using VC funding.
The vision at Red Leader is to approach laser technology in the same way that the iPhone camera is similar to others’ DSLRs. The plan is to use software workarounds to compete with more advanced (and more expensive) lidar sensors.
The Mountain View, Calif., company announced itself to the world on Thursday with $10 million in Series A funding from Micron Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Next View and the semiconductor company. Red leader, which has been operating quietly since 2018, previously raised nearly $3 million in seed capital from funds including NextView, Refactor Capital, Haystack and Hustle Fund. It is now worth an estimated $55 million after the new round.
The company is developing software to improve the performance of lidar sensors, which most believe will allow self-driving cars to see the world. Over the past two years, lidar hardware manufacturers including Velodyne, Luminar, Ava and Oster have gone public through special purpose acquisition company deals in bids to boost funding. Across the board, shares of these companies have declined, often due to sales performance. “They’re basically all different flavors of the same question: ‘How can I make this physics package better?”, Jake Hillard, Red Leader cofounder and CEO says.
Red Leader’s software focuses on fine-tuning LiDAR images, especially for inexpensive, short range sensors. The company is not building technology for autonomous vehicles that are still far from mass adoption, but rather targeting general robotic applications, such as robotic forklifts or warehouse automation robots to understand their environments. to help (for example, to avoid dropping a heavy object on a human).
The secret sauce of software, Hillard says, comes in algorithms the team wrote for signal processing, a component of the lidar system that affects image quality. “We do one thing better than anyone else in the world and that is you get a live, real-time 3D map,” he says.
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