Aurora to acquire Blackmore, adding velocity-detecting lidar to their toolbox

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Aurora, the self-driving car startup that recently received over $500M in funding has announced that it plans to acquire Blackmore, a Montana-based company specializing in doppler radar systems.

Aurora is a developer of a “full-stack solution” for self-driving vehicles, named Aurora Driver. Aurora was started by CEO Chris Urmson who led Google’s self-driving car team, CPO Sterling Anderson who launched Tesla’s Model X and Autopilot, and CTO Drew Bagnell who is a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon and worked in Uber’s AV division.

With funding from big names that include Hyundai, Kia, and Amazon, Aurora has turning heads, and has been turning heads in the industry as it grows and makes significant acquisitions.

Though Blackmore may not be a well-known name, they are one of only a few lidar companies that have been working on the development of frequency modulation continuous wave (FMCW) lidar systems. FMCW lidar, which was first developed as an alternative to mechanical lidar, emit a continuous wave of light using very small amounts of power. At the beginning of 2019 Blackmore released a doppler lidar system capable of detecting both range and velocity, designed especially for autonomous fleet vehicles.

In this video, you can see 3D imagery collected during tests of Blackmore’s FMCW lidar technology. The resulting point cloud is colored by velocity: white points are stationary objects (such as buildings and roads), reds and yellows are objects moving away from the sensor, and blues/greens are objects moving toward them.

The acquisition of Blackmore by Aurora could provide them with access to an important missing piece in autonomous vehicle safety – velocity measurements – that should allow for better recognition (and avoidance) of pedestrians and other moving hazards. In a blog on Aurora’s website, the company expressed their interest in creating better and safer systems by combining Blackmore’s technology with other systems.

“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.”

Though Aurora has indicated that they are not interested in producing hardware, the technology from Blackmore will be a key part of their Driver system going forward.

“Ultimately we believe that Blackmore’s technology will allow us to deliver a safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective Driver than even the best systems available on the market today.”

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Carla Lauter

Carla Lauter is the editor of SPAR3D.com and the SPAR 3D Newsletter. Before joining SPAR 3D, Carla spent 10 years working on NASA and National Science Foundation projects focusing on Earth science communication. Most recently, she worked on web-based outreach and online interactives for NASA Earth Science satellite missions measuring sea level, salinity and ocean color from space.

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