Self-driving car tech company Aurora Innovation buys lidar firm

Aurora Innovation on Thursday announced plans to purchase a lidar company that could have a major effect on the burgeoning self-driving car industry. The California-based Aurora Innovation said it will purchase the Montana-based lidar company Blackmore.

The self-driving-systems company said the purchase underscores Blackmore’s significant work in lidar technology, specifically with Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW), a next-generation lidar system.

Blackmore lidar Photo: BlackmoreLidar Instagram

Blackmore lidar Photo: BlackmoreLidar Instagram

Lidar is one of a series of sensor types that enable the driver-assistance features needed for self-driving technology. It uses laser light pulses to produce detailed images of the world around a car. The vehicle then analyzes these images to “see” the world around it. Although nearly every company working on self-driving-car hardware and software acknowledges lidar is the way forward, Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk continue to dismiss the technology. Instead, Musk and the electric-car maker believe cameras, radar, and other sensors will be good enough to produce tomorrow’s self-driving vehicles.

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FMCW can travel longer distances to let a car “see” farther out. It’s also less prone to different types of interference. When the day finally arrives when the roads are filled with self-driving cars all trying to accomplish the same goal, FMCW will let a specific car see clearly. Aurora Innovation also touted the technology has “all-weather capability.” Crucially, fledgling self-driving cars haven’t been able to tackle fog, heavy rains, or snow—all common occurrences outside of West Coast testing grounds for today’s prototype autonomous cars.

Blackmore lidar Photo: BlackmoreLidar Instagram

Blackmore lidar Photo: BlackmoreLidar Instagram

Aurora Innovation has become somewhat of a darling among investors. The company has secured $530 million in Series B funding, with Amazon named as a notable investor. The company has also signed onto partnerships with Hyundai, China’s Byton, and the Volkswagen Group. The latter was rumored to make a bid for Aurora Innovation outright, though the company turned down VW’s offer.

Blackmore has also secured support from various automakers, including Toyota and BMW, as well as other companies.

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