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General Motors (GM) Boosts AV Capabilities on Oculii Investment

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General Motors’ GM venture capital arm recently invested millions of dollars in Oculii, a start-up that develops radar sensor software for autonomous vehicles (AV). The financial details of the investment are still under the wraps.

Founded in 2015, Oculii is based in the United States and is a leading start-up dealing in developing radar software. The company uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to rev up the radar, a sensing system more than 80 years old, and enable more autonomous maneuvering. Its name, a spin on the plural of “oculus,” is an inspiration from the company’s goal to serve as the eyes for future autonomous systems. The new funding from General Motors comes just months after Oculii secured a $55-million Series B funding.

Radars, which measure the distance between objects, enable a car to accelerate or brake to match its speed with that of the vehicle in front to avoid mishaps or crashes. Radars also work well in adverse lighting and weather conditions. Traditional radars are low on resolution and are extremely noisy, and have attracted a lot of criticism due to the miscalculated measurements while driving. Moreover, radars are generally used for assistive capabilities because of the imaging limitations.

However, Oculii is famous for developing high-precision radar systems that are cost-effective and diligent in delivering results and making the vehicles safer over the long run. The company notes that its high-resolution radar systems serve as a critical back-up, and provide extra security in case the cameras and other sensors fail. In fact, Oculii claims it can take its low-cost, commercially-available radar sensors and use its AI software to shape the future of autonomous driving. Indeed if Oculii can actually enhance the performance of the radar, which is much cheaper than lidar, it could result in enormous cost savings for automakers across the globe.

General Motors plans to use Oculii's low-cost software to boost the spatial resolution of radar sensors and enhance the capabilities of the auto biggie’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system known as Super Cruise. General Motors will use Oculii’s efficient radar software to amend its vehicle’s speed camera resolutions, and bolster the existing vehicle portfolio by adding new features and specifications.

The investment by General Motors in Oculii underscores the seriousness the automaker has with regard to the radar technology. It showcases how automakers are now seriously considering about investing in new technology and are turning toward radar to rev up their automobile prospects.

General Motors will offer the Super Cruise semi-autonomous drive system on several of its models in future, including the Cadillac CT4 and Cadillac CT5 luxury sedans, the all-new Cadillac Escalade SUV, the GMC Hummer EV and the revamped Chevy Bolt EV and all-new Chevy Bolt EUV. Looking ahead, General Motors plans to soon roll out Cruise Origin, a fully-autonomous, all-electric ride sharing vehicle first unveiled in January 2020.

Electric vehicle (EV) behemoth Tesla TSLA eliminated radar sensors from its volume models this year, in favor of a pure vision approach that uses cheaper cameras and AI-driven technology to improve its self-driving car mechanism. However, Oculii is optimistic that Tesla will soon embrace the radar technology as it is much more affordable now.

In some other news, General Motors is working with South Korea's LG Energy Solution, its long-time EV partner, in tracking and solving problems linked to the battery fires in Chevrolet Bolts that have paralyzed the vehicle’s entire production line.

General Motors has discovered two manufacturing defects in the battery cells supplied by LG from two of its plants (one in South Korea and one in Michigan) — a torn anode tab and folded separator — which, in rare circumstances, might lead to a battery fire. This has triggered three recalls (affecting roughly 142,000 cars) and cost $1.8 billion to the automaker since last November. Moreover, this has forced the auto biggie to suspend the production of new cars until LG fixes the manufacturing lines and starts supplying defect-free battery cells.

To resolve the issue, General Motors stated that the early Bolt models will have their entire battery pack replaced, while the newer models will have only the defective modules within the pack replaced. However, the new parts might not be available until after November. In the meantime, Bolt owners and prospective EV buyers have swamped social media with a string of complaints aimed at both General Motors and LG.

General Motors, peers of which include Ford F and Volkswagen VWAGY, currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.


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