Infineon Technologies acquires Dutch driverless car sensor manufacturer Innoluce BV

German chip manufacturer Infineon Technologies AG yesterday said that it has acquired its Dutch rival Innoluce BV, a chip designer of miniature light detection and ranging sensors (lidar) that is used by driverless cars to detect other vehicles on the road.

Infineon, based in Munich, did not reveal the financial terms of the deal.

Innoluce, a Philips spin-off, is a fabless semiconductor company headquartered in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, near the Dutch-German border.

The company has a strong expertise in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and manufactures miniature laser scanning modules that integrate silicon-based solid-state MEMS micro-mirrors. Such micro-mirrors are necessary to adjust the laser beams in automotive light detection and ranging lidar systems.

Lidar, radar and camera are the three key sensor technologies for semi-automated and fully automated cars. Infineon said that the acquisition delivers expertise in all three complementary sensor systems which provide the redundancy required for autonomous driving.

While radar uses radio-frequency electromagnetic waves, lidar employs laser beams to measure the distance to objects adjacent to the car. Scanning lidar systems help to detect small objects on the road.

Lidar systems to be introduced in premium cars within the next couple of years are based on mechanical scanning mirrors and, thus, are bulky and rather expensive, while lidar systems need to be semiconductor-based, thus being more compact and cost-effective.

According to Infineon's estimates, the new version for lidar will be around $550 per driver-less car, while early versions of lidar developed by Silicon Valley-based firm Velodyne and used by Google in its self-driving car project cost $75,000 per vehicle.

''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, which accounts for 40 per cent of the company's €5.8 billion annual revenue.

Infineon, whose chips power car airbags, enable cruise control, manage power supplies and cut vehicle emissions, had earlier rebuffed major takeovers after it was spun off from engineering conglomerate Siemens in 1999.

The company employs 35,400 people worldwide, more than 25,000 patents and patent applications and 19 manufacturing sites and 34 R&D locations.

It has a 9.8 per cent share in the $29 billion automotive semiconductor market, according to IHS Marki.