Blickfeld says its lidar systems, which use off-the shelf components, will be cheaper and better (Image: Blickfeld)

Blickfeld wants to give autonomous vehicles the gift of sight. Using cheaper components and deploying micromechanics to reduce size and weight, the Munich-based startup hopes to play an important role in speeding up the mass-market rollout of driverless cars.

Once Level 5 autonomy comes into play, fully automated driverless cars will need 360 degree vision to quickly avoid all kinds of danger. Today, that works best with an array of ultra-fast spinning laser scanners also known as lidar. But lidar is still a costly solution and many companies have been hard at work to come up with more cost-efficient alternatives. Enter Blickfeld, the German word for “line of sight.” The startup is developing a cheaper technology to scan a car’s surroundings. It is made of a combination of lasers and recognition software the company has written itself.

“Our technology will clearly be cheaper and more compact than solutions so far,” said Florian Petit, one of the Blickfeld founders, who is responsible for product and business development. Despite lower costs, the technology can be relied upon to provide AVs with the information they need to make intelligent and safe decisions, he said. Blickfeld is an automotive technology newcomer that was founded as recently as 2016, but it could well help to speed up the trend toward fully autonomous cars. That’s because its system will cost “in the lower three digits” instead of the thousands of euros a lidar system costs today, Petit said.

Competitive market

Blickfeld has entered a highly competitive market, where big specialist companies and large Tier 1 automotive suppliers such as Continental are all working to bring down the price of lidar systems. But the Munich startup believes that its simple technology approach will pay off and it has registered more than 20 patents to underpin its strategy. “In contrast with other lidar systems, we are using off-the-shelf components that we combine with a new type of silicon micro-structures,” Petit said. And that’s where the cost advantage comes from. Blickfeld is confident that it is building a system that will be fully automotive-grade and has the ability to provide an extremely detailed picture of a car’s environment. In addition, its scan units are being reduced to the size of a big smartphone.

Petit has a doctoral degree in electronics and computer technology and specializes in robotics. His co-founder, Mathias Mueller, is a specialist in optical measurement technology and Rolf Wojtech, the third partner, also has a computer science degree. Blickfeld’s team has grown to 25 over the past year, not counting the student interns that assist development in several areas. Blickfeld is funded by several German investment funds that are enthusiastic about the company and its product.

“We are convincend that Blickfeld, with its innovative technology approach, can be an important enabler in making lidar in the car suitable for the mass market,” said Ulrich Eisele, CEO of Fluxunit, the venture arm of lighting group Osram. And Andreas Unseld, partner with another investor, Unternehmertum Venture Capital Partners, said the experience of the Blickfeld team provides a good complement to its technology. Blickfeld has the potential, he said, to become “a relevant provider of technology for autonomous driving.”

By Chris Loewer