Blickfeld was founded in 2017, when Florian Petit and his co-founders, who studied robotics and aerospace, decided to get involved in autonomous vehicles.
Today, the company’s first product, named Cube, is helping OEMs around the world go autonomous, with advanced self-driving navigation and mapping systems built from years of expertise in the robotics sector.
If nothing else, autonomous cars are robots. So, this was a clear progression for Petit, who decided to introduce his key learnings and apply it to an automotive industry on the cusp of a revolution.
“Lidars have been around for some time,” he explains. “In fact, you can find research papers that are over 30 years old. But, if it is such an old technology, why don’t we still have a proper solution in the automotive market?”
The problem here, says Petit, is not building one lidar, but millions of them to cater to all new cars that want some form of self-driving technology, such as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). It’s a mass production problem. And, although there are at least 100 dedicated lidar companies in the market, most of them are not focused – or able to produce – high volumes.
Autonomous driving has hit the mainstream in recent years, with investment into lidar systems going through the roof. However, it has started to cool down slightly, as people are starting to realise the complications that come with the innovation. This won’t happen overnight and can bring huge consequences to companies that do not approach with caution.
“Technology must be progressive, not jump-started,” adds Petit. “It takes time for us as an industry to get a grip on solving certain problems like this.”
“I do not believe that we will be driving level 5 tomorrow but start with levels 2, 3 and, eventually, 4,” he continues. “In addition, we will not put autonomous vehicles all over the world, but it certain areas which are suitable for the development of technology.”
Blickfeld is primarily focused on autonomy levels 2 and 3, in very specific use cases, which allows the company to produce a clear message and clear offering for customers. This is vital, as there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the level of autonomous technology, which can lead to disastrous results.
“We have to make sure that we set the right messages, and pretending that a car can drive itself is the wrong way,” affirms Petit.
Highways and Byways
Speaking of dedicated testing areas, Petit and his team are most interested in autonomous highway driving, as they believe that it is the best place to start due to an advantage of relatively clear scenarios.
Typically, the majority of highways across the world look the same, meaning it is much easier to implement autonomous technology than in cities that differ in size and behaviour. You have no pedestrians, cyclists and any other issues you would find in a busy city to worry about.
“Initially, there is more use for self-driving technology for people on the highway, when they are driving long distances and can get very bored,” he says. “With autonomous vehicles, they will have so much more free time when travelling.”
What’s more, this is an extremely commercially-attractive prospect for OEMs and logistic companies, providing a very clear and immediate use case with many advantages. The industry has come a long way since platooning.
Having this use case in a more confined environment makes it easier to deploy the technology, rather than using specialised hardware. This means that Blickfeld can produce these systems for vehicles on a mass scale.
“At the end of the day, it has to make money,” adds Petit. “Lidar manufacturers are ready to cash in, as we’re finally starting to see the demand from OEMs which want to introduce autonomous technology into their new products.”
Just The Start
Advanced lidar systems are not limited to cars; these systems can significantly improve other industries such as logistics, drones and security.
“A robot is a system that can make some form intelligent decision, meaning we can use it for anything, including traffic management in cities, counting the number of people at events for security purposes and locating cargo in the supply chain,” adds Petit.
Lidar can be used to capture and aggregate information in different use cases, which is where Petit sees his business focus. This works well for Blickfeld, as the company can continue to work with companies outside of the transport industry as it prepared for the self-driving vehicle ‘boom’.
“Of course we are focused on automotive, but we are active in many different fields. Yes, we are working with OEMs to put ourselves into mass-production cars, but this type of project takes usually at least five years. So it will not happen overnight, and is a long-term prospect for the industry and Blickfeld.”
With software quickly transforming the automotive sector, Petit and his team at Blickfeld are involved in a very exciting moment. But this is only the beginning, with many obstacles to overcome in order to supply the industry with safe, reliable and efficient systems that will support this change happening in front of us.
“For us as a startup, there are many opportunities but also challenges,” he says. “We are focused on producing high-volumes with high-quality for the transport sector. Being well situated in Europe, which has decades of experience with manufacturing and allows us to have expert neighbours, as well as having the digital capabilities, I am we are in a very strong position.