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BMW i Ventures invests in Blackmore Sensors and Analytics, developer of automotive FMCW lidar

BMW i Ventures has invested in Blackmore Sensors and Analytics, Inc., a leading developer of frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) lidar for the automotive industry.

Low-cost lidar sensors are required to enable self-driving vehicles and, in addition to being more cost-effective, Blackmore’s FMCW lidar technology has several competitive advantages over traditional pulsed lidar systems that enable autonomous driving teams to achieve their goals faster, BMW i said.

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

—BMW i Ventures partner Zach Barasz

Blackmore systems combine modern coherent optical telecommunications hardware with advanced radar signal processing techniques.

  • Integrated Lidar Engine. Blackmore‘s optical layer is built on standard optical fiber communications components, leveraging decades of development in optical fiber communication. Recent trends in coherent optical fiber communication point to photonic integration in InP (indium phosphide) as a leader in cost reduction and performance increases for high speed communications. The same technology is allowing Blackmore to integrate designs to chip-scale lidar.

  • Non-Mechanical Scanning. Blackmore’s lidar approach uses continuous wave (CW) light instead of short energetic laser pulses; the company says that CW approaches are much better suited to the use of integrated photonics for solid-state beamsteering. The technology pairs with Blackmore’s lidar engine to enable the mass manufacture of completely solid-state lidar sensors.

  • Single-Photon Sensitivity, High Dynamic Range. Blackmore’s systems leverage coherent detection to make measurements with single-photon sensitivity limited only by quantum noise. This helps Blackmore’s lidar see through rain, snow, and dust. Despite extreme sensitivity, Blackmore’s systems offer extremely high dynamic range. This means the sensor is able to see both bright (street signs, tail lights) and dark objects (tires, road surfaces) with ease.

  • Real-Time Processing. Efficient signal processing is critical for FMCW lidar systems. Streamlined computations allow for real-time processing on commodity embedded processing hardware. Range and Doppler data is extracted and assembled into point clouds in real time. This allows points to be streamed from the sensor with sub-millisecond latency.

Blackmore’s first-generation automotive lidar features Long range performance (>200m); velocity measurement (+/- 150m/s, 0.2m/s resolution); calibrated reflectivity estimates; flexible 2D scanning over forward-look FOV; and selectable point throughput of 300kpts/sec to 1.2Mpts/sec.

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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 support the growing sector of autonomous driving teams demanding a superior lidar solution.

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