A Canadian lidar business is among six startups in the autonomous driving sector to have achieved “unicorn status,” defined as a startup company valued at more than US$1 billion, or C$1.29 billion.
Quebec City’s Leddartech Inc. finds itself in a crowded field of more than 240 startups working with self-driving cars. Six of those companies -- four of them in Silicon Valley -- have achieved unicorn status.
LeddarTech has an estimated value of US$1.33 billion (C$1.71 billion), according to to industry estimates and publicly available data, Reuters reports.
LeddarTech is the only company outside of the United States to have achieved the status among AV tech startups.
It comes in at fourth on the list of six unicorns, behind Velodyn LiDAR (C$ 2.58 billion), Zoox (C$2.15 billion) and Quanergy Systems (C$2.05 billion), all of which are in Silicon Valley.
LeddarTech makes solid-state technology it says is better and cheaper than earlier versions of lidar and sells it to parts makers, which in turn bake it into their hardware. LeddarTech has attracted big-name industry backers including Delphi Automotive, Germany's Osram Licht and Fiat Chrysler's parts division, Magneti Marelli, which in September participated in a $101 million fundraising round.
Founded in 2007, LeddarTech was spun out of the National Optics Institute, a government-funded research facility in Quebec City. Back in the 1980s, the dean of Laval University at the time persuaded the federal and provincial governments that optics and photonics were the future of tech. Not long after, a small research team began developing lidar in conjunction with a research agency at the Department of National Defence, which wanted technology that could detect biological warfare agents.
About 10 years ago, LeddarTech researchers started working on solid-state lidar for autonomous cars — long before many of its competitors. While its technology still costs a few hundred dollars, the company says it produces images that are 25 times sharper than rival lidar, meaning a driverless car can more precisely maintain awareness of nearby pedestrians, vehicles and other objects.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.