Owl Autonomous Imaging has raised $15 million. The Series A funding round was led by State Farm Ventures with participation from Excell Partners, Luminate NY Accelerator, Empire State Development, MHNW Consortium, Sanjay Jha (former CEO of both GlobalFoundries and Motorola Mobility) and others.
A Luminate NY company with offices in Fairport, Owl’s technology is an adaptation of a thermal-ranging solution developed under a challenge grant from the U.S. Air Force to track missiles in flight traveling at more than 1,000 miles per hour. Its patented suite of thermal sensor technologies, computer vision algorithms and specialty optics aim to dramatically reduce both on-road automotive and off-road industrial and agricultural accidents to reduce fatalities and injuries, the company says. Owl has developed a patented 3D thermal-ranging camera that delivers HD thermal video with high-precision ranging for safe autonomous vehicle operation.
“Of the 1.35 million people killed worldwide in car accidents every year, more than half were outside of the vehicle (pedestrians, cyclists, or motorcyclists),” says Owl CEO Chuck Gershman. “At Owl, we are all about safety, especially pedestrian safety, Owl’s 3D thermal-ranging solutions enable the identification of pedestrians, animals, and cyclists far sooner than any other system on the road today, and we do it day or night, and in foul weather. Simply stated, we save lives; we save lots of lives.”
Currently, Owl says sensor suites for advanced driver assistance systems have mutually dependent visible light cameras and radar. If one of these is inactive, the entire suite goes down—a common situation especially during nighttime and in inclement weather. Owl has developed a modality—monocular 3D thermal ranging—that improves pedestrian safety. Using specialty HD thermal imaging and computer vision algorithms, the system operates in the thermal spectrum, mining angular, temporal and intensity data. It produces ultra-dense point clouds and highly refined object classification.
Owl’s patented, 3D Thermal Ranger provides HD imaging and precision ranging representing a 150x improvement in resolution and cloud density of LiDAR, a remote sensing technology, the company says. It operates day and night, in all weather and definitively classifies pedestrians, cyclists, animals and vehicles while calculating position, direction and speed to unlock safe autonomous and semi-autonomous operation. Vehicle vibration does not impact the 3D Thermal Ranger, which offers panoramic thermal imaging and dense range maps.
“Preventing car accidents of any kind is of critical concern,” says Michael Remmes, vice president of State Farm Ventures. “Owl’s technology is a potential compelling advancement in active safety detection and avoidance of collisions. We are excited to support Owl’s efforts to bring these advancements to the automotive community.”
Market researchers expect the ADAS sensor market to see growth in the coming years, especially as consumers look for vehicles that are equipped with technologies that monitor and warn drivers. Major automakers are implementing ADAS technology to improve safety ratings and attract more customers, a report from Facts & Factors states. The market research firm expects the global demand for ADAS sensors to grow nearly 12 percent to $25 billion by 2026.
A member of Luminate’s fourth cohort, Owl is already on the industry’s radar. It completed field trials in conjunction with VSI Labs on the streets of Las Vegas during the Consumer Technology Association’s CES tradeshow this year. It recently shared field trial results with live demonstrations at the Photonics West Conference in San Francisco.
“Harnessing integrated photonics, Owl represents the future of transportation,” says Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate NY, adding that Owl is a portfolio company of Silicon Catalyst, the world’s only incubator for semiconductor startups.
Owl won the nod for Honorable Achievement and $200,000 in funding at the Luminate Finals last year.