Lidar startup Baraja has raised $32 million in a series A round of funding led by Sequoia China and Main Sequence Ventures’ CSIRO Innovation Fund, with participation from Blackbird Ventures.

Founded out of Sydney, Australia, in 2015, Baraja is one of a number of lidar startups targeting the burgeoning driverless car industry with the necessary smarts to safely navigate busy thoroughfares without human intervention.

Lidar technology essentially surveys the environment by beaming out laser-powered light to measure distances. Anyone who has observed the big players in the autonomous vehicle realm, such as Alphabet’s Waymo, will have noticed the giant spinning lasers mounted atop the vehicle’s roof that rotate to garner a comprehensive view of the environment. These are not only bulky, but expensive — perhaps prohibitively expensive if self-driving cars are ever to hit mass production. Moreover, because they are compiled of myriad moving parts, they are also not as durable as they could be in the rough-and-tumble of citywide transportation.

And this is one of the problems that Baraja is looking to fix, with a cheaper “new category of lidar” that repurposes existing technologies from the telecommunications and automotive industries. More important, however, is that its lidar system doesn’t utilize multiple rotating lasers or any moving parts — it uses what it calls “spectrum-scanning,” which leans on the basic physics of prisms to split and beam different colors and wavelengths of light in multiple directions.

VB Transform 2020 Online - July 15-17. Join leading AI executives: Register for the free livestream.

Above: Baraja lidar

To get a full 360-degree view, one of these sensors is positioned on each corner of the car’s roof.

In addition to its main Sydney HQ, Baraja has offices in Shanghai and San Francisco. The startup only emerged from stealth back in July, and to date it had raised around $1.5 million in seed funding. With another $32 million in the bank, it said that it plans to scale its lidar production and double down on its hires.

“As Baraja ramps up manufacturing capabilities, we are well-positioned to capitalize on growing demand for scalable, high-performance lidar that can realistically be integrated into vehicles,” said Baraja COO Rod Lopez. “There are so many lidar companies out there that simply haven’t invested in the systems and processes required to manufacture at scale.”

AVs in overdrive

The autonomous vehicle industry is really gaining momentum, with the likes of Waymo recently unveiling its first commercial driverless car service, Volvo announcing its first commercial autonomous truck, and numerous companies working on the underlying technology that will bring self-driving transport to highways globally.

For autonomous cars and trucks to traverse busy thoroughfares at high speeds, they must be able to identify and understand their environment to avoid collisions — and lidar is central to this.  Volvo and Luminar recently demoed advanced lidar tech that gives driverless cars a more detailed view of pedestrian movements, while AEye raised $40 million to develop sensors that merge camera and lidar data.

Put simply, many companies are pushing the envelope to arrive at market-ready lidar products that are not only safe, but scalable, marketable, and affordable.

“Everyone understands the challenges for traditional lidar,” added Sequioa China partner Steven Ji, who is now also part of Baraja’s board of directors. “They’re prohibitively expensive, difficult to manufacture at scale, and need to be incredibly robust. These problems need to be solved for the fully autonomous vehicle to become a reality, which is why we’re so excited to be working with Baraja.”