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Autonomous Vehicles Startups

Lidar Acquisition by Aurora Puts Spotlight on Self-Driving Car Sensor Market

Well-funded robotaxi developer Aurora Innovation is the third major software developer to acquire a startup that makes laser sensors called lidar. Aurora on Thursday did not disclose terms of the deal to buy Bozeman, Mont., based Blackmore, but it seems likely that at least part of the deal would be in stock. Aurora is already worth $2 billion on paper but little is known about its technical progress.

Blackmore’s founders worked on long-range lidars for the defense industry before turning to cars. The firm previously raised $22 million, including from the venture arms of BMW and Toyota, and was valued at $50 million in late 2017, according to Pitchbook. Blackmore’s lidars, which Ars Technica said cost $20,000 apiece, use lasers at a 1550 nanometer wavelength, which can operate at higher power levels than shorter-wavelength lidars made by industry leader Velodyne, but without damaging human eyes. The downside is they have been more expensive to develop. Several other lidar startups, including Hesai, Luminar, and Aeye, also operate lasers at a 1550 nanometers. Expect further consolidation, given that more than 100 automotive lidar developers are trying to sell units, or their companies, to a handful of major buyers.

Previously, robotaxi maker GM/Cruise bought a lidar startup called Strobe. And Ford/Argo bought a firm called Princeton Lightwave. (Alphabet’s Waymo makes its own lidars.) Don’t be surprised to see Apple buy lidar tech too. Still, these sensors take a long time to make road-ready. Cruise is far from ready to put Strobe hardware on many of its prototype vehicles in San Francisco. Suffice it to say that most robotaxi makers are keeping their lidar options open for now.

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