When Rainbow Physics Meets Self-driving Cars

Australian startup Baraja is disrupting the autonomous vehicle industry with its innovative LiDAR technology

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By Komal Nathani

LiDAR-technology based sensor

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As the industry of self-driving cars is picking up pace across the world, startups are using innovative technologies to help autonomous vehicles drive on the fast lane.

One of the key challenges being faced by the industry is to give self-driving cars a clear vision to see objects around. To resolve this challenge, two telecom engineers from Australia designed an improvised version of LiDAR technology that could see the objects around more accurately than ever before. A young technology, LiDAR creates 3D image of an object that is in distance. The technology has been helping automobile industry for the past few years but faced challenges in maintaining accuracy.

Baraja, a newcomer in LiDAR-based startups, proposes a new, mechanically simpler way to direct its laser sight, which is through rainbow physics. Just before CES 2019, the company raised $32 million funding in its Series-A round led by Sequoia China, Blackbird Ventures and Australia-based Main Sequence Ventures. Founded in 2015, the startup has recently opened its new offices in the US and China, with a vision to help the autonomous vehicles worldwide. While the market has already seen a number of lidar markers in the industry battling with high manufacturing and production costs, Baraja enters the arena with a new range of affordable lidar sensors.

In an interview, CEO Federico Collarte (FC) and CTO Cibby Pulikkaseril (CP) explain what makes Baraja different from others and what potential they see in the autonomous vehicle industry.

How did Baraja start?

FC: Working in the optical telecommunications industry exposed us to cutting edge technologies for connecting the planet by transmitting information as light via optic fiber cables. Our light bulb moment was the realization that we could customize and take the optic fibre route to transmit the type of laser used in the telecom industry. Thus, we had the building blocks for a revolutionary new type of LiDAR. We're still connecting the planet, but now our mission is to do so by enabling the next generation of self-driving vehicles. There are several players operating in LiDAR technology.

What is your USP?

CP: Baraja's Spectrum-Scan technology improves upon existing LiDAR by simplifying the way light is transmitted and received. This innovation produces customer benefits by targeting existing industry painpoints: performance, range, resolution and reliability, with a design that delivers cost advantages in volume manufacture.

FC: This technology works by pairing a wavelength tunable laser (a laser that changes color on command) with prism-like optics. As the laser varies the color of light transmitted, physics does the rest. The prism acts like a router, bending or deflecting the light out into the environment at a precisely controlled angle. Scan patterns can, therefore, be optimized to suit different road scenarios or traffic conditions, adapting on the fly without any additional wear and tear on any moving parts. By simply changing the wavelengths of light emitted by the laser, the softwaredefined LiDAR ensures resolution goes only to where it is needed.

How do you plan to utilise the recent funding from Sequoia China?

FC: We have a product in the market plus a healthy R&D pipeline for the future, so we are hiring aggressively to support both. We are adding talented people to the R&D and product development team in hardware, software engineering and manufacturing. We are also expanding our footprint in AV hotbeds around the world, growing sales, marketing and field engineering to support customer fleet deployments.

The concept of selfdriving vehicles has been facing a lot of backlash. Your thoughts?

CP: I'm not sure if backlash is a word I would use. I think there is, however, a growing realization that this is going to take longer than perhaps the media thought a few years ago. Part of the reason for this is that legacy technologies simply do not perform well enough to enable full autonomy, and LiDAR is a key example here.

FC: This is one of the reasons Baraja is part of the vanguard of next-gen LiDAR systems that will be necessary to unlock full autonomy, safely. Autonomous vehicles remain an immense opportunity for providers that are able to reliably deliver high performance products.

What is the formula of instant growth?

CP: Passion, commitment, execution. The combination of these factors creates a virtuous cycle that attracts amazing employees, customers and investors.

FC: The best ideas in the world are nothing without execution. Growth is a natural consequence.

Komal Nathani

Former Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

A firm believer of hard work and patience. Love to cover stories that hold a potential to change the momentum of business world. Currently, a part of all-women web team of Entrepreneur’s Asia Pacific edition to jig the wheel of business journalism!

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