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In the race to develop self-driving car technology, German semiconductor maker Infineon has acquired Innoluce BV, a Philips spin-off that makes miniature lasers used to detect other cars.

Infineon is aiming to be a central player in all three sensor technologies used in autonomous driving. It is already competent in two of them — radar and cameras — and now it will gain the expertise Innoluce has developed in “lidar,” a detection system akin to radar but based on laser lights.

“While radar uses radio-frequency electromagnetic waves, lidar employs laser beams to measure the distance to objects adjacent to the car,” Infineon said in a press release. “Scanning lidar systems help to detect small objects on the road.”

Lidar can “look ahead” 200 metres, potentially providing cars with the ability to detect all objects around them in high-resolution.

Infineon said the first cars using lidar will be introduced on high-end models within a couple of years, but they will be “bulky and rather expensive” because they are based on mechanical scanning mirrors. Future, cheaper versions will be semiconductor-based, using micro-mirrors.

“We intend to make lidar an affordable feature for every new-built car worldwide,” said Peter Schiefer, president of Infineon’s auto unit — the company’s largest division, accounting for 40 per cent of Infineon’s €5.8bn in revenue last year.

Details of the transaction were not disclosed. Innoluce, based in the Dutch city Nijmegen, was founded in 2010 as an entrepreneurial spin-off of Philips. Its lidar technology is also used in medical imaging, illumination and projection.

Infineon has already proven to be a big player in making chips for cars: last year the unit recorded €2.35bn in revenue, nearly double the figure in 2010.

Infineon held a 9.8 per cent market share in the $29bn automotive semiconductor market, according to IHS Markit. That ranked it second, behind Netherlands-based NXP, which had a 14.3 per cent share after purchasing US rival Freescale for $11.8bn.

Professional services firm PwC forecast last year that semiconductor sales in the auto market will by 2019 reach an annual growth rate of more than 20 per cent for electric and hybrid cars, which tend to be more “connected” with Internet of Things technology.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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