The coffee machine is standing still, but the Blickfeld team keeps pushing forward.
These are truly extraordinary times. We at Blickfeld have also been contemplating the current situation and have taken measures to protect our employees as best we can while also helping to slow down the spread of the Covid-19 virus. But how is this feasible for a company that not only has departments such as software, sales, HR and marketing teams at a central location, but also tests, calibrates and develops products in the very same office space? How can we fulfil our social responsibility in these extraordinary times, while at the same time ensuring our operations?
Working at your desk at home
Working from home is one of the more straightforward measures to ensure social distancing. By letting the team members work from home so that they do not have to go outside or use public transportation is already an important step towards minimizing contact with other people.
What sounds easy to manage, nevertheless requires some preparation and consideration. In addition to the appropriate hardware for working at your desk at home, the communication tools that allow meetings and discussions to continue must also be put into operation. The team spirit is an important part of the Blickfeld culture – so it is also an essential task to maintain it. We do this with regular video calls, sometimes for a short coffee break or a even Weißwurst breakfast. This way, nobody has to feel lonely while working from home.
Special protective measures
But not all Blickfeld teams can simply work from their kitchen table. Many of our colleagues work on the Cube or its components and therefore have to come to the office to use the laboratories and equipment. In order to enable continued operation here, we have taken special protective measures and have reduced personal contact between colleagues as much as possible. These measures enable us to protect our employees and customers in the best possible way while maintaining operation.
Digital meeting with the whole team
We find new ways, to conduct familiar formats, that define the way we work. Our daily stand-up meetings within the individual Blickfeld teams take place via video calls. We conduct measurements with cubes at home. We take part in panel discussions online. We plan to hold workshops digitally and remotely. We meet as usual on Monday mornings with the entire Blickfeld team – currently digitally in a large video call. Impressive with almost 100 participants.
These measures drastically change our day to day work and it also means switching off our beloved coffee machine to prevent social gatherings in the kitchen. Nevertheless, we are thrilled to see how constructively our entire team is pulling along and making it possible to keep the business going despite these disruptions.
Munich. Munich-based LiDAR start-up Blickfeld has completed its Series A financing round. The new financing was led by the venture capital unit of Continental together with Wachstumsfonds Bayern, which is managed by Bayern Kapital, with participation of the existing investors Fluxunit – OSRAM Ventures, High-Tech Gründerfonds, TEV (Tengelmann Ventures) and Unternehmertum Venture Capital Partners. Blickfeld will use the new financial resources to ramp up production, qualify its LiDAR sensors for the automotive market and strengthen the application development and sales teams for industrial markets.
Blickfeld develops and produces LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors and software for environmental detection. The solid-state sensor developed by Blickfeld delivers high-resolution, three-dimensional environmental data and stands out due to its high performance even in adverse environmental conditions and its small size. Blickfeld’s patented technology is particularly advantageous in terms of its industrialization capability and enables highly automated production of the devices, allowing the company to meet the needs of the automotive mass market. The sensors are used in autonomous driving as well as in smart cities, industrial applications and security solutions.
The series A funding enables Blickfeld to ramp up production. “The safety of autonomous vehicles is based on LiDAR sensor technology. We see Blickfeld in a unique position here, as our technology stands out due to its mass market capability,” says Blickfeld co-founder Florian Petit. “But the mobility sector is not the only area of application for our LiDAR sensors and recognition software: Numerous other successful customer projects in logistics, smart cities or the security sector confirm our approach, as does the financial commitment of the venture capital unit of Continental, Bayern Kapital and our previous investors. We are now looking forward to taking the next steps into series production.”
Nils Berkemeyer, Venture Capital Manager at Continental, states: “Blickfeld’s industry-agnostic value proposition, i.e. reliability, performance and scalability, addresses various growth markets in automotive and beyond. What truly sets the company apart is the advanced technological maturity, which the team has achieved in an extremely short amount of time. Supported by a strong syndicate of VC investors and industry experts, Blickfeld now is in prime position to establish itself as a key player in future sensing technology.”
The start-up Blickfeld, founded by Dr. Mathias Müller, Dr. sc. Florian Petit and Rolf Wojtech, has grown to a team of now over 100 people since it was founded three years ago. Over the next few months, in particular the application development and sales teams will be further expanded so that the company can increasingly pursue potential in industrial applications in addition to the automotive market. In the coming months, the Blickfeld team will also concentrate on qualifying the LiDAR sensor’s core components for the automotive market and further expanding production.
“MEMS-based LiDAR sensors are usually less expensive, but they are not high-performance enough for use in autonomous vehicles.” We hear sentiments like this quite often. In this blog post we will explain how our sensors effectively invalidate this assumption, how we found the perfect mirror size for our LiDAR, and what considerations factored in to our decisions.
For use in autonomous vehicles, LiDAR sensors have to meet two basic requirements: on the one hand, they have to deliver high performance, including long range and a wide field of view. On the other hand, they must also be scalable so that millions can be produced and installed in vehicles. LiDAR manufacturers meet these challenges through various approaches. Mechanical LiDAR systems, whose beam deflection units are moved mechanically by motors, are still the most commonly used systems today. Although these devices boast a wide field of view — some up to 360° — and long range, their mechanics require regular maintenance and are large, heavy, and expensive to produce. Thus, mechanical LiDAR systems solve only the performance side of the two major demands placed on the sensor industry.
Another approach to meet these challenges is MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology. Here, components are produced in silicon, which has the advantage of scalability: since this technology has been tried and tested over many years, identical components can be produced in a cost-efficient manner and in large quantities. This approach is also used, among other things, in the production of microsensors.
But how do MEMS-based LiDAR systems meet the challenges of performance?
Long range with the help of the right laser source
For autonomous vehicles to be able to travel at high speeds, they must be able to “see” and perceive the world around them — not only in their immediate vicinities, but also at greater distances. This is particularly important when driving on highways, as vehicles are moving faster and therefore objects, bends, and other vehicles must be reliably detected at greater distances in order to be able to react in good time. Sensors therefore require a long range in order to enable autonomous driving at highway speeds.
In order to achieve this range with a LiDAR sensor, either the emitter or the detector needs to be optimized specifically for this application.
One possible starting point for such adjustments is the laser source. Typically, lasers with two different wavelengths are used in LiDAR sensors. Some LiDAR manufacturers rely on fiber lasers with wavelengths of 1550 nm. This wavelength cannot be focused by the human eye and can thus be used in an eye-safe manner even at high energy levels. This results in a longer range — the more energy used, the further the device “sees”. However, this type of laser source also has a decisive disadvantage: 1550 nm lasers are large and complex to manufacture, which leads to higher prices and large LiDAR housing dimensions.
Many LiDAR applications therefore use laser diodes that emit laser pulses with wavelengths of 905 nm. These have the distinct advantage of being very small and having been used for a long time in a wide variety of applications. As a result, these diodes are inexpensive and available on the market in large quantities. However, eye safety regulations require that the beam strength of the diodes be lower than that of 1550 nm lasers. The optimization on the emitter side is therefore limited.
Searching for the right mirror size
So how can the detector be optimized? Here the aperture plays an important role in achieving long ranges. It describes the size of the detector. In the case of our MEMS-based design, the aperture corresponds to mirror size. In order to capture as much light as possible, a large aperture — in other word as large a mirror as possible — is required. However, mirror size is also limited by certain factors – and so it is necessary to calculate the optimal mirror size while taking these into account. These factors are: photon number to be received, collimation, deflection angle, and resonance frequency.
On the one hand, the size of the mirror used in LiDAR unit depends on how many photons have to be emitted in order for a sufficient number of photons to come back, thereby detecting an object. This minimum number of photons can be calculated accurately based on the link budget. This measure includes how many photons are lost at distance and through low reflective surfaces, homogeneous scattering of light, and detector inefficiency. In this way, it is possible to calculate how many photons must be emitted, or how large the aperture must be so that a minimum number of photons can be detected again. In addition, Blickfeld sensors have a coaxial design, which means that only the light that comes back from the same direction in which it was emitted is recaptured. This is advantageous in that it prevents other random light signals from being picked up and disturbing or falsifying the images.
In order to obtain high-resolution data that reliably identifies even small objects, the lasers must hit objects in a collimated form. This collimation is achieved by placing a lens in front of the laser. Now the mirror size comes into play again: a mirror must be exactly large enough to deflect all the light collimated by the lens. This depends on the focal length required for optimal collimation and thus high resolution.
MEMS mirrors oscillate at a certain resonant frequency. They are triggered by integrated actuators and therefore do not require motors or any other mechanical means. This is a clear advantage because motors and moving parts quickly wear out and require regular maintenance. These problems do not arise if the oscillation is triggered by integrated actuators.
The resonant frequency at which a mirror oscillates depends on the size and mounting of the mirror. For this purpose we have developed a proprietary technique for embedding the mirrors in order to be able to use particularly large mirror sizes. Due to these unusually large diameters, a large number of photons can be directed into the surroundings and back onto the detector, which allows Blickfeld LiDAR sensors to achieve accurate a long range. In addition, thanks to their larger size, these mirrors are more robust than conventional products, which are only a few millimeters in diameter. Mirrors used in Blickfeld LiDARs also have high resonant frequencies due to their lightweight construction, which ensures that the greatest possible number of photons are returned to the detector: if the mirror oscillates too quickly or too slowly, photons will pass the detector due to the coaxial structure.
MEMS technology specifically designed for LiDAR applications
In conclusion, mirror sizes are determined by a wide array of factors. In order to build the most high-performance LiDARs based on MEMS, mirrors must have specially developed compositions, sizes, and embeddings. And only if the MEMS technology is specifically developed with LiDAR applications in mind, can the requirements of a long range, a wide field of view, and high resolutions be achieved.
The Munich-based start-up is awarded the “The Spark” by Handelsblatt and McKinsey for its pioneering LiDAR technology.
MUNICH, November 22, 2019 — Blickfeld, a leading provider of solid-state LiDAR technology, receives the German award “The Spark” by Handelsblatt and McKinsey which honors digital innovation. In a 90-second pitch on Thursday evening, co-founder Rolf Wojtech impressively presented the various applications of the scalable solid-state LiDAR sensors to the audience. The Munich-based start-up had already explained Blickfeld’s technology in detail to the eleven-member jury in September and thus prevailed against the other nine finalists in the competition.
The jury, which is made up of experts from various industry branches, including last year’s Spark winner Magazino, based their decision on the fact that Blickfeld was developing a “potential future technology of vital significance for the automotive industry”. They had evaluated the solutions presented by the finalists in terms of novelty, scalability and customer benefit.
“We got to know the other finalists at the jury meeting and have the utmost respect for each and every one of these start-ups,” says Mathias Müller, CEO of Blickfeld. “We are delighted that the jury has selected us as the winner of this year’s “The Spark” award. We also see the decision as further confirmation of the significance of LiDAR technology for autonomous driving. With this affirmation, we are continuing to enable the future of mobility with our Blickfeld sensors.”
With this year’s German Digital Award “The Spark”, Handelsblatt and McKinsey, under the patronage of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy, honored the thought leaders and entrepreneurs of the future for the fourth time. The prize is awarded to concepts that are innovative, scalable and have already been successfully tested.
Live demonstrations in Las Vegas to include CES 2020 Innovation Awards Honoree Blickfeld Cube
MUNICH — Blickfeld, a leading provider of solid-state LiDAR technology, will demonstrate its automotive-grade LiDAR sensors at the Consumer Electronics Show 2020 in Las Vegas. The Munich-based startup will show a live demo of its LiDAR suite, consisting of its two Blickfeld sensors, the Cube and Cube Range, in the Smart City exhibition area at Westgate, booth 1304, as well as in a live car demo.
Visitors can experience the different features of the two Blickfeld sensors: the Cube offers a wide field of view and is perfectly suited for urban driving applications. The latest addition to Blickfeld’s product portfolio, the Cube Range, was developed for long-distance detection, for example while driving at highway speeds. The public will be able to see the Cube Range in action for the first time, as Blickfeld is officially debuting its long-range sensor in Las Vegas. In combination, the Cube and Cube Range cover the full automotive LiDAR suite. Their capabilities will be featured in live product demonstrations at Blickfeld’s booth and on the streets of Las Vegas in a live car demo.
Blickfeld is also proud to announce that their solid-state LiDAR sensor, the Blickfeld Cube, has been named a CES 2020 Innovation Awards Honoree by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The CES Innovation Awards honor design and engineering in consumer technology products in various categories. The Cube was awarded in the category of Vehicle Intelligence & Transportation.
“We are very proud to have such a strong presence at CES in January and to be named a CES Innovation Awards Honoree,” says Blickfeld CEO Mathias Müller. “The booth and the demos are mirroring our journey of the last few months. We can look back on some important milestones in 2019: the launch of our long-range LiDAR, our step into mass production of the Cube, working with several Tier 1 manufacturers such as Koito — kicking off 2020 with an outstanding representation at CES fits in perfectly. And, without revealing too much, I can promise that the Blickfeld booth will be an eye-catcher — even aside from the point clouds.”
Smart traffic with the help of LiDAR technology
If you have ever driven along the Mittler Ring in Munich during rush hour, you will be aware of the enormous problem facing urban spaces throughout the world: traffic jams as far as the eye can see. On average, Germans were stuck in traffic for 120 hours – and, in Munich, for as long as 140 hours – in 2018. For individuals, these lost hours are annoying and impair their quality of life. For the state, though, these figures mean considerable economic effects. Traffic jams cost several billion euros per year because employees are stuck in traffic jams instead of being productive, and goods are on the road instead of on the shelf. In addition, there is a high level of environmental pollution due to increased fuel consumption and thus increased CO2 emissions.
Traffic is a problem, especially in cities. However, new technologies can and will make an important contribution to solving this problem.
Traffic is a problem, especially in cities. However, new technologies can and will make an important contribution to solving this problem.
Knowing more than the individual road user
How does congestion develop? Traffic jams are a distributed problem caused by the fact that all road users drive their vehicles in a way that is optimized for themselves. For example, they may catch up with the car in front or change lanes – whatever appears to them to be the best way to get to their destination faster. Since the individual road users cannot see how they influence the traffic around them, they cannot act accordingly. Drivers themselves are not aware that a traffic jam can be triggered three kilometers behind the vehicle that is stopping.
This is the point at which we have to start: the behavior of individuals must be counterbalanced in traffic planning and control so as to optimize the flow of traffic. The solution is to regulate traffic in a pre-emptive and distributed manner, i.e. with anticipation and going beyond the individual road user. This requires a complete overview of the traffic situation.
Gaining a complete overview with GPS, cameras and sensors
Various technologies can be used to achieve this complete overview. However, if you take a closer look at them, you will see that some of them are less suitable for equipping a smart infrastructure:
GPS provides valuable data by tracking the movements of road users. This technology can therefore be used to report traffic jams quite reliably. The ability to take pedestrians and cyclists into account, however, exceeds the capabilities of GPS.
Instead of collecting information with the help of road users, as in the case with GPS, sensors and cameras can be integrated into the infrastructure to monitor the traffic situation. This requires that the devices be installed in traffic lights, street lamps or traffic signs so that they can collect information about their surroundings from there. Here, too, clear advantages and disadvantages of the possible technologies can be identified:
Cameras, for example, are able to record color images, but they cannot provide the same quality when used in darkness. Additionally, they only capture the data in 2D, whereas 3D data is needed to reliably detect objects and determine distances. They also quickly find themselves in a grey area with regard to data protection when recording and storing personal data.
Radar is mainly used for speed monitoring, but could also be used for traffic monitoring. However, radar only provides a very crude picture: although the technology identifies objects, it is not able to classify them due to the lack of detail. Radar data, for example, cannot reliably distinguish between pedestrians and cyclists.
LiDAR captures road users precisely and anonymously
Laser-based LiDAR technology is a technology that can distinguish very precisely between all road users. The sensors provide detailed and reliable 3D information that makes it easy to distinguish between different road users. Although it is possible to recognize whether the 3D point cloud is a pedestrian or a cyclist, the identification of individuals is not possible, which protects the privacy of road users.
In addition, LiDAR sensors are able to reliably collect information even in difficult weather and lighting conditions. Darkness, dust or fog do not bother the technology. In addition to position and object information, the sensors also record speeds, which can be helpful in analyzing traffic flow or the causes of traffic jams.
Solid-state as a solution for today’s LiDAR problems
High-tech sensors are currently used primarily in the field of autonomous driving, but they face a major challenge: the LiDAR sensors that are available today are expensive and prone to faults. Solid-state technology solves these problems. In this type of LiDAR, the moving parts that deflect the laser to scan the environment are replaced by maintenance-free components. The sensors are therefore much more robust and also less expensive – and hence ideally suited to a wide range of applications in the infrastructure.
Traffic information enables practical measures
The LiDAR sensors installed in the infrastructure provide information about the current traffic situation in real time: Is the traffic flowing or stagnating? Is there an accident or a construction site? Are there many pedestrians at the traffic lights or at the crosswalk?
With this information, the following measures can be taken in real time and adapted to the traffic in order to optimize the traffic flow:
- Adaptation of traffic light phases
- Adaptation of speed limits
- Displaying traffic jam warnings
- Showing redirection recommendations
- Identification and reconstruction of hazardous locations
In future we will even go one step further: autonomous vehicles will then use the information to dynamically adapt their schedules and routes to the traffic situation.
Cities that revolve around people again
In many cities, the influences of the paradigm of the “car-friendly city” can still be clearly seen today: urban planning is aligned to the goal of unhindered traffic flow by car. Even though this model has been subject to strong criticism for several decades now, many traffic concepts in cities are still oriented towards motorized individual transport.
In recent years, this approach has been increasingly replaced by a demand for car-free zones or even entire city centers. These demands clearly show that urban and traffic planning must once again be more about people. The needs of residents, commuters and all other road users must be centermost, which means making mobility as safe and uncomplicated as possible. Pedestrian crossings must be designed to be safer; turning accidents must be avoided; sufficient space must be created for cyclists – the list of measures is long. Intelligent traffic control with the help of a smart infrastructure makes this possible – and LiDAR technology is at the heart of it.
Cube Range detects obstacles at a distance of up to 250 meters
Munich – Blickfeld, a leading provider of solid-state LiDAR technology, is introducing the latest member of its product family. With the Cube Range, the Munich-based company is launching a MEMS-based LiDAR sensor for extended detection of objects at a distance of up to 250 meters. In combination with the well-established Blickfeld Cube, Blickfeld now offers a full LiDAR suite for autonomous vehicles.
The Cube Range sensor was designed as a robust and powerful 3D solid-state LiDAR for the mass market. It has a range of 150 meters with 10 percent reflection; a range of up to 250 meters is easily achievable with higher reflection. In addition, the Cube Range exhibits an impressive resolution of 0.18°.
The proven Blickfeld technology allows cost-effective and scalable production of the sensor. The core of this technology is a proprietary silicon MEMS mirror embedded in a coaxial structure that is based on commercial standard components.
Reliable and detailed collection of 3D data during a highway drive
With its high resolution and long range, the Cube Range addresses the need for moving objects to be detected with high accuracy. By precisely generating a dense 3D point cloud and then evaluating it in real time using Blickfeld’s software stack, the company makes an important contribution to enabling autonomous driving. The Blickfeld technology ensures precise environmental detection even in darkness, fog or strong sunlight.
“With the Cube Range, we have developed an extraordinary LiDAR which, thanks to its outstanding properties, is particularly suitable for driving at highway speed because it provides reliable environmental images even under these conditions,” says Dr. Mathias Müller, co-founder and CEO of Blickfeld. “Autonomous vehicles are just one application example for our LiDAR sensors. We also see a great demand in other areas, such as security, agriculture and smart city environments. Therefore, we are all the more pleased that the Cube Range has already proven itself successfully in various projects and will be available for purchase in 2019.”