Autonomous vehicles Lidar safety Technology

Inside Ouster with CEO Angus Pacala

picture of Inside Ouster with Angus Pacala
Inside Ouster with Angus Pacala

Recently Lidar News had the opportunity to go inside Ouster with co-founder and CEO Angus Pacala who is not new to the automotive lidar game.

For a bit of perspective, can you provide your education and training and how that led to your involvement with laser scanning and lidar technology? Please include time frames.

I first became interested in autonomous systems and lidar after watching the Nova Special: The Great Robot Race, which followed the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. Some of the best vehicles in the race used industrial lidar sensors, as did the winning team led by Sebastian Thrun at Stanford. As someone who enjoys solving complex systems problems, I found it incredibly exciting. It is what, in part, drew me to Stanford where I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering.

I viewed lidar as the last frontier of sensor technologies. It was the least mature — compared to camera or radar technology — and had the greatest potential to proliferate and impact autonomous systems if it could be democratized. I co-founded my first lidar company, Quanergy, in 2012, where I served as the Director of Engineering until 2015.

Can you provide an overview of the history of Ouster? Why did you start the company? What were some of the early challenges? Was it an instant success? What is it like today?

I co-founded Ouster with our CTO, Mark Frichtl, in 2016 with the goal of making lidar ubiquitous. We both understood that lidar had the power to transform industries through greater levels of autonomy, but had yet to be brought into the modern age. We knew that it needed to be both highly-performant and affordable in order to be adopted at scale, and that digital technologies had a proven track record of delivering in both aspects. After months of research and engineering, we invented the first digital lidar. It took two product generations and multiple iterations of performance improvements driven by updated firmware and CMOS chip sets to get to where we are today.

We believe our digital lidar unlocks the largest multi-market opportunity with the best combination of price and performance. Today, we have around 600 customers in over 50 countries with outsourced manufacturing, enabling us to scale quickly and further reduce costs over time. We also have an exciting product roadmap that we believe will enable us to continue to grow in each of our target verticals: automotive, industrial, smart infrastructure and robotics.

How does your technology compare to the other lidar sensor vendors? Do you think Ouster is the technology leader?

Ouster is currently the only high-performance digital lidar company with products available today. The vast majority of lidar companies are developing analog products that are performance constrained by their architectures whether it be power efficiency, cost, durability or another metric.

We build Ouster’s digital lidar sensors to a super set of performance requirements that is flexible enough to span thousands of use cases across multiple markets. Our digital lidar vastly improves upon analog technology in size, weight, form factor, power efficiency, and durability. Our digital approach also means that we can quickly scale performance over time in line with Moore’s Law in a way no analog lidar company can reach.

What are the key markets and products for Ouster today and over the next couple of years?

We believe our sensors are the best fit for most automotive, industrial, smart infrastructure and robotics applications today, and that over time we will be able to further extend our performance lead through additional sensor improvements and certifications. We believe that the industrial and smart infrastructure verticals will grow the fastest in the near-term, and that the automotive and robotics verticals will start to ramp in 2025.

What do you believe is the realistic timeline for mass market, on-road adoption of Levels 3, 4 and 5 automation?

Ouster has been more conservative in modeling automotive timelines and subsequent revenue projections than other lidar companies nearly exclusively focused on the consumer Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) market. Although we may see lidar used in some L2 and L2+ consumer ADAS systems today, we believe that meaningful volume series production for lidar will ramp with L3+ systems around 2025.

Can you provide any sneak peaks into the Ouster product roadmap?

Ouster is certifying both its scanning and solid state products for automotive. Ouster is designing its short, medium and long-range scanning sensors and true solid-state sensors to meet automotive standards, including ASIL-B Functional Safety certifications. We believe that there will be a real market need for both sensor types, and as far as we know, Ouster is the only company invested in offering and certifying both.

We have shared that our OS scanning sensors are in the B Sample phase now with plans to move into the C Sample phase in 2023. We have defined the full product portfolio for our true solid state sensors, locked in their specs, and are now moving into the engineering design phase. In line with past guidance, we expect to have our first solid-state samples ready in the fourth quarter of 2022. We expect to have our multi-sensor suite ready in time for L3+ series production, and it will be available for a combined ~$1k price point.

If you look into your crystal ball, what will Ouster be like in a couple of years down the road? How many employees will you have? Are you looking at acquisitions? How do you want to grow the company? 

There are three key differentiators which fundamentally set Ouster apart from other lidar companies. The first is our digital approach to lidar, which we believe allows us to offer the best combination of price and performance today. The second is our diversified business model. This is possible due to the flexible architecture of our competitively priced sensors which is helping drive adoption of digital lidar technology across all of our verticals and unlocks the largest multi-market TAM. The third is our proven ability to execute. In a relatively short period of time, Ouster has been able to launch two product generations, double performance, outsource and scale manufacturing, grow its customer base and revenues, reduce costs and deliver positive gross margins, and enter the public markets.

We plan to accelerate growth by investing in sales and marketing, software applications and our hardware roadmap. We believe these investments will enable us to further expand our commercial presence, sign additional multi-year strategic customer agreements to grow our revenue pipeline, and extend our product lead for years to come.

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