Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) company Blackmore Sensors and Analytics raised an $18 million Series B led by BMW i Ventures to increase autonomous vehicle safety with new technology. Toyota AI Ventures also participated along with Next Frontier Capital, and Millennium Technology Value Partners. The raise is timely given Uber’s fatal run-in while testing one of its self-driving cars.
The company previously raised $3.5 million Series A led by Next Frontier Capital. The latest round brings its aggregate total known funds raised to $21.5 million.
Founded in January 2016, the Bozeman, Montana-based startup manufactures automotive and geospatial LIDAR devices. For those of you unfamiliar with the technology, LIDAR is the visual tech used by autonomous vehicles.
Much like a whale or a bat, the devices detect and calculate the distance of objects, stop lights, and pedestrians by emitting beams that bounce off of obstacles and travel back to the device. With safety a primary concern surrounding autonomous vehicles, LIDAR technology is a critical component of the equation.
According to its website, Blackmore’s geospatial devices are also equipped for use in military defense and surveillance activities, surveying and civil mapping, mining work, and drone-operated imaging projects.
Blackmore boasts its cost-effectiveness and use of frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) LIDAR as critical differentiators in the industry. President Randy Reibel explained the difference in tech to Crunchbase News, comparing the FMCW system to competitor Velodyne’s tech.
“Traditional pulsed time of flight LIDARs (i.e. Velodyne) use brief laser pulses to measure distance,” Reibel explained. “FMCW utilizes a constant power laser beam and modulation of the laser frequency to perform simultaneous range and velocity measurements similar to modern radar systems.”
So, basically, the continued emittance of the laser from the device allows it to detect not only the distance of objects in front of the vehicle, but also the velocity at which those objects are moving at the same time.
“The difference is analogous to AM versus FM radio—FMCW LIDAR is more sensitive and much less prone to interference,” Reibel explained in an email.
According to its press release, the company will direct the funds toward scaling production of its sensors for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving markets.
“Long term, automotive is acting to open the door by providing the necessary scale to warrant investment in LIDAR,” Reibel wrote.
As the company eyes the crowded and quickly developing network of autonomous vehicle developers, a backing by BMW and Toyota may prove to be useful. Blackmore echoed that sentiment.
“The support from BMW i Ventures and Toyota AI ventures highlights a broad market opportunity and a need for better LIDAR sensors across the dynamic autonomous driving space.”
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias