Blackmore Sensors and Analytics today announced that it had raised $3.5 million to further develop its frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) Lidar for use in self-driving cars. The company aims to reduce the primitive-looking radar and camera systems atop today’s autonomous car prototypes to a single semiconductor mounted inside the vehicle’s front grill.
“The typical American consumer does not want a self-driving car with roof-mounted instruments,” Randy Reibel, CEO of Blackmore, told VentureBeat. “We’re reducing this to be stamped out on a single semiconductor so that it can fit in the front grill of a car and we can squeeze it in there, out of sight.”
Lidar stands for “light detection and ranging,” and it is the technology that helps autonomous cars “see.” Blackmore’s differentiated approach to Lidar relies on frequency-modulation, much the way FM radio differs from AM radio. It allows self-driving vehicles to detect range (how far away another car is) and spatial details (the shape and characteristics of that car), as well as speed (how fast the car is moving away from or toward you).
Next Frontier Capital and Millennium Technology Value Partners participated in the investment. “Blackmore’s Lidar engine provides advanced capabilities not available in competing systems,” said Next Frontier Capital managing partner, Richard Harjes, in a statement, “such as single photon sensitivity and the capability to simultaneously measure an object’s range and speed. These advanced capabilities will open up a new era of computationally efficient Lidar analytics that will lower the total cost of autonomous driving systems.”
Blackmore is one of a new generation of auto parts suppliers preparing to meet the component needs of self-driving cars. Automakers like Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and BMW are investing heavily in self-driving car technology, and Google‘s self-driving car is seemingly everywhere. Tesla provides an Autopilot system, and everyone from Apple to Uber seems interested in the space. Blackmore estimates that the annual Lidar market will reach $10 billion by 2020, fueled, in large part, by the rapidly growing demand for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Blackmore’s competitors include Velodyne and Quanergy. Tesla, famously, has not adopted Lidar for its ADAS.
Blackmore is located in Bozeman, Montana and has 22 employees. The company will use the investment to begin manufacturing its Lidar engine semiconductor processes, which will enable it to produce sensors at scale and at low cost. “Blackmore’s current plan is to deliver prototype automotive Lidar and deployable surveillance systems using our new Lidar engine in mid-2017,” said Reibel.