Fiat Chrysler Inks Deal for French AV Startup StartMeUp

Auto parts supplier Magneti Marelli — a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler — has agreed to acquire French startup SmartMeUp, a developer of perception software for autonomous vehicle applications.

The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2018. Neither company released financial details of the agreement.

StartMeUp develops software for processing sensor signals, such as those for detecting and recognizing objects around the vehicle.

The software can also track moving objects, and helps build the 3D environment keeping the car on the road.

It works with a lightweight processor, which keeps heat levels down and still delivers a continuously high level of accuracy.

CEO and founder Loïc Lecerf previously started Artificial Design, a startup focused on computer automated design and drafting, as well as Bicnox, which specialized in web services based on machine learning.

“The acquisition of SmartMeUp, combined with the investment in lidar expert LeddarTech and the long established lighting and electronics capabilities, strengthens Magneti Marelli’s contribution to autonomous driving development with focus on the sensing and perception components of the architecture,” Pietro Gorlier, CEO of Magneti Marelli, wrote in a statement.

SmartMeUp also focuses on developing software for what it calls driver monitoring, an alert system that uses infrared sensors to keep track of driver attentiveness.

The acquisition will bring into Magneti Marelli a group of scientists and engineers to continue development of vision technologies, according to a company release.

In an effort to stay at the cutting edge of a rapidly growing, increasingly competitive autonomous vehicle market, OEMs have been aggressively investing in — or acquiring — startups around the world.

Hyundai is investing an undisclosed amount in Autotalks, an Israel-based fabless semiconductor company that is developing both vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technologies, which are considered essential to the future of autonomous driving.

In June, the investment arm of Swedish automaker Volvo bought a stake in Silicon Valley Lidar startup Luminar, speeding development of its autonomous vehicle and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) portfolio.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., Luminar specializes in advanced sensor technology for use in autonomous vehicles, including Lidar, a type of laser vision that keeps self-driving cars continuously positioned on the road.

The company claims its technology allows Lidar sensors to see farther with less reflectivity, which means the car can gather more fine-grained information about its surroundings, and at a greater distance.

The race to acquire the right talent is also accelerating as automakers around the world invest huge sums of money in AV technology. Waymo, the self-driving vehicle arm of Google parent company Alphabet, recently hired former Netflix and GM executive Tawni Nazario-Cranz as its chief people officer.

Weeks before Apple poached one of Waymo’s top systems engineers, Jaime Waydo — she joined Google’s self-driving team in 2013 and helped to develop the pod-like AVs that Waymo’s predecessor, built from scratch and put on the road.

Competition for talent is fierce among self-driving companies. Qualified AV engineers and computer scientists in the San Francisco Bay Area command average annual salaries of almost $300,000, Forbes reported last year.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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