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BMW i-Ventures Invests in Blackmore Sensors and Analytics for LiDAR Technology

Author: Eric Walz   

Bozeman, MT — Blackmore Sensors and Analytics, Inc., a Montana based developer of frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) lidar for the automotive industry, announced today that it has raised $18 million in a Series B funding round led by BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of BMW. Additional participants in the investment round include Toyota AI Ventures, Millennium Technology Value Partners and Next Frontier Capital.

"Advances in new sensor technologies, like lidar, are going to make cars safer and, eventually, autonomous," said BMW i Ventures partner Zach Barasz. "Blackmore has unique and innovative FMCW lidar technology that delivers a new dimension of data to future vehicles."

Low-cost lidar sensors are required to enable self-driving vehicles. In addition to being more cost-effective, Blackmore's FMCW lidar technology has several competitive advantages over traditional pulsed lidar systems, enabling autonomous driving teams to achieve their goals faster.  

Blackmore's FMCW Lidar Technology

A typical frequency-modulated (FM) lidar system sends out lasers of different wavelengths, or colors. When a stationary object reflects one of those lasers, the wavelength remains unchanged and the receiver can easily extract range information.

However, if that object is moving, the object will cause a Doppler shift to the FM waves—a change in the wavelength of the laser it reflects back. This returning laser contains information about both the object's range and its velocity—unfortunately they're entangled and difficult for the receiver to extract, which is what Blackmore's core technology addresses.

To make the FM lidar work, Blackmore developed a system that extracts the Doppler shifts, to determine the range and velocity information of an object, such as another vehicle. Blackmore says it has spent years proving the technology on mission-critical defense applications.

By supplying velocity information, Blackmore's lidar can help an autonomous vehicle understand much more details about its environment. For example, it can sense if the car in front of it is going the same speed, or if it's traveling faster. More importantly, it can know instantaneously when that car ahead stops and prevent you from running into the back of it.

With Blackmore's lidar, the person's color is yellow when stationary and changes from red to blue depending on which direction and speed they are running

"Perception is critical to the perception-prediction-planning automated driving stack, and we're excited to see the innovations that Blackmore is bringing to the top of this stack," said Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures. "Blackmore's groundbreaking FMCW lidar technology is designed to eliminate interference, improve long-range performance, and support both range and velocity — a triple threat to make autonomous driving safer."

According to Dr. Randy Reibel, Blackmore's CEO, it is that last capability that differentiates Blackmore's sensor from its competitors. "Having the ability to measure both the speed and the distance to any object gives self-driving systems more information to navigate safely," said Reibel. "Blackmore provides software and analytics so that its customers can get the most out of the FMCW lidar sensors."

Blackmore will use the investment to scale the production of its FMCW lidar sensor for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving markets. Increased production capacity will allow Blackmore to scale to support the growing industry demand for lidar, as well as the growing sector of autonomous driving teams demanding a superior lidar solution for their self-driving development vehicles.

Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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