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Autonomous Driving Startup Aurora to Acquire Lidar Company Blackmore

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【Summary】Aurora, a well-funded Silicon Valley-based autonomous driving startup, announced that it is acquiring lidar company Blackmore. Aurora said that it chose Blackmore because of its pioneering work in Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar, a next generation lidar technology that can improve the perception capabilities of self-driving vehicles.

Eric Walz    May 23, 2019 6:19 PM PT
Autonomous Driving Startup Aurora to Acquire Lidar Company Blackmore

Aurora, a well-funded Silicon Valley-based autonomous driving startup, announced that it is acquiring lidar company Blackmore.

In a blog post today, Aurora wrote that Blackmore's cutting-edge lidar technology will be instrumental in helping Aurora develop safer self-driving technology more quickly.

Aurora said that it chose Blackmore because of its pioneering work in Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar, a next generation lidar technology that can improve the perception capabilities of self-driving vehicles. Blackmore is the first company to deliver commercial FMCW lidar sensors for automotive fleets.

Blackmore is located in Bozeman, Montana, and Aurora is opening an office there so the two companies can work more closely on integrated Blackmore's lidar technology into Aurora's autonomous driving hardware and software stack.

Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave Lidar

FMCW lidar is a promising technology for autonomous vehicles. According to Aurora, it offers a higher dynamic range, all-weather performance, single photon sensitivity, and interference immunity —which makes it safer and more scalable.

Unlike typical time-of-flight (TOF) lidar that sends out a laser pulse and then waits for its return, FMCW lidar transmits a continuous laser beam with a prescribed, continuous change in the frequency.

Because the frequency is changing at a constant rate, there's a frequency difference between the outgoing and the reflected returning beam that's directly proportional to the distance that the returning beam traveled before bouncing back.

Combining laser beams with two slightly different frequencies produces a beat frequency that gives a precise estimate of the frequency difference, therefore a precise distance measurement of an object.

However, one of the biggest advantages is that FMCW lidar can measure the velocity of moving objects in the path of the autonomous vehicle.

Aurora said that Blackmore's technology will allow the company to deliver a more cost-effective autonomous driving platform than even the best systems available on the market today.

"Lidar is critical for developing a reliable self-driving system that can navigate our roads more safely than a human driver. As we've said before, different sensor modalities have different strengths and weaknesses; thus, incorporating multiple modalities drives dramatic improvements in the reliability of the system. Based on our decades of industry experience, we're clear that lidar, specifically with the advancements Blackmore has made, is part of the ultimate sensing system." Aurora wrote in a blog post.

doppler lidar.png

A Doppler colored view of a single lidar frame, shows traffic and pedestrians at an intersection (Photo: Blackmore)

Aurora was founded by three Silicon Valley veterans who previously worked at Google, Tesla and Uber. Aurora CEO Chris Urmson was a pioneer in developing Google's first self-driving cars and led Google's early self-driving car program, which has now become Waymo.

Aurora's other two co-founders are Sterling Anderson, who serves as Aurora's chief product officer, and CTO Drew Bagnell, who was a founding member of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group in Pittsburgh that is working on the ride-hailing company's self-driving vehicles.

Anderson previously worked for Elon Musk at Tesla and led the team that developed Tesla's "Autopilot" autonomous driving technology. Prior to that, he led the design, development and launch of the Tesla Model X.

In February, Aurora announced it secured an additional $530 million in its latest Series B funding round. Participating in the investment was e-commerce giant Amazon. The investment in Aurora by Amazon marks the e-commerce giant's first entry into the self-driving car space.

The latest funding values Aurora at $2.5 billion and will help the company to further develop its autonomous driving technology.

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