Aurora, the self-driving Automobile startup backed by Sequoia Capital and Amazon, is in an acquiring mood. The company, founded in early 2017 by Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell, announced Thursday that it acquired lidar company Blackmore.
The Blackmore purchase follows a second smaller, and previously unknown, acquisition of 7D Labs that occurred earlier this year, TechCrunch has learned. 7D, founded by former software engineer from Pixar animation Magnus Wrenninge, is a startup that makes photorealistic data sets for street scenes. Aurora confirmed the purchase.
Aurora’s bigger Blackmore acquisition comes on the heels of its $530 million Series B funding round led by Sequoia Capital and “significant investment” from Amazon and T. Rowe Price Associates. Aurora didn’t disclose the deal’s details.
Lidar, or light detection and ranging radar, measures distance. It’s considered by many in the emerging automated driving sector — with the exception of Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a handful of others — as a critical and necessary sensor for self-driving vehicles.
Blackmore, which has 70 employees, might not be a household name. And its base of operations in Bozeman, Mont. makes it a seeming oddball amongst the Silicon Valley scene.
But in the world of autonomous vehicles (and in military circles), Blackmore is well-known and has been considered an acquisition target for some time. Two funding rounds in 2016 and 2018 that brought in backers such as BMW I Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures increased Blackmore’s profile. (The organization has raised $21.5 million). Cruise, GM’s unit, looked at the company this past year, according to two sources knowledgeable about the discussions.
However, it’s the firm ’s tech, which was under development for almost a decade, that got Aurora CEO Chris Urmson’s focus.
Blackmore CEO Randy Reibel noted in a recent interview a highlight was getting an opportunity to see the look on Urmson’s face when he saw the lidar.
Not all lidar is exactly the same Urmson and Reibel noted. The majority of the companies that exist in the market today are developing and seeking to sell AM lidar sensors, which send out pulses of light beyond the visible spectrum and then monitor how much time it takes for each of those pulses to return. Distance, and the direction of to, whatever those pulses reach are listed as a point as they return and eventually forms a 3D map.
Blackmore is one of the few firms developing Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar, which elicits a low-power and continuous wave, a bit like keeping a flashlight on, the firm ’s CTO and co-founder Stephen Crouch explained. The upshot is FMCW lidar can measure distance with a greater dynamic selection and instant velocity, meaning it can gauge the speed of the objects or moving away from them. It’s also “” that was immune from other or sun detectors to interference, Crouch added.
The big win, Urmson and Reibel echoed, is that it’s optimized with the perception pile. In other words, this lidar is compatible in a manner that will improve perception of Aurora’s “driver. ”
The purchase of Blackmore is only 1 example in the past couple of decades of lidar startups announcing substantial equity and debt rounds or being snapped up by companies developing technology. In 2017, Cruise acquired Strobe and Argo AI purchased Princeton Lightwave.
That kind of consolidation will likely continue, Reibel predicted, in part because it’s hard to go it alone. ” AV companies are particularly protective of their tech and opening the door to an outside lidar provider takes convincing.
Despite the acquisition, Urmson reiterated that Aurora is not interested in hardware, whether it’s lidars or automobiles. The company will work with automotive Tier 1 providers and partners as it scales.
For now, Aurora is focused on incorporating Blackmore’s lidar into its self-driving pile and isn’t necessarily planning to market lidar sensors as a item. But, Urmson added We’re open-minded about the future. ”
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