All-seeing autonomous diggers: Hitachi joins in $31m funding round for next-gen lidar tech

Hitachi Construction Machinery has joined in a US$31m funding round to support a Sydney, Australia-based start-up in developing its breakthrough lidar technology (Light Detection and Ranging) to chart a path to level four autonomous diggers and other machinery.

Hitachi’s investment comes after two years of testing Baraja’s Spectrum-Scan sensors in real-world environments.

The cash will be used to expand Baraja’s team and accelerate the development of its lidar for automotive-grade use in heavy equipment.

The funding round was led by Blackbird Ventures and included investments by Main Sequence Ventures, the investment arm founded by Australian scientific agency CSIRO, and new investors Regal Funds Management, Perennial Value Management, superannuation fund HESTA and InterValley Ventures.

Baraja’s lidar technology rethinks environment scanning for autonomous vehicles, exploiting the wavelength properties of light to steer lasers through a prism in order to better detect objects at range.

Baraja says it is more tolerant to factors like heat, shock and vibration that hinder traditional lidar systems.

It lets users adjust scanning resolution to the changing environment the way humans adjust focus, giving better visibility for self-driving vehicles in a range of settings.

"Legacy lidar systems have been hampered by poor performance with limits on range, resolution and reliability," said Federico Collarte, Baraja chief executive and co-founder.

"Our Spectrum-Scan lidar has proven reliability in the field, which has been recognized by partners such as Hitachi, one of the world’s most innovative machine manufacturers. This latest capital and the partnership with Hitachi will also help us to advance our mission to help make self-driving vehicles an everyday reality."

Hitachi Construction Machinery chief technology officer Hideshi Fukumoto said: "Spectrum-Scan lidar is a must-have technology providing better autonomous sensing solutions for mining customers who demand increasingly higher safety and production efficiency. We are delighted to be working with Baraja, a company with leading-edge technology in this field."

He added the investment would expand its application to the civil engineering and construction.

Rick Baker, Blackbird Ventures co-founder and board director at Baraja, said: "Countless lidar makers have made promises and set deadlines they have failed to meet due to one fundamental issue: legacy lidar doesn’t work the way it needs to."

"Baraja founders Federico and Cibby have taken a truly different approach with Spectrum-Scan that addresses and solves the fundamental challenges others have faced out of the lab and provides a clear roadmap to automotive-grade lidar in the coming years."

Founded in 2016, Baraja began in the garage of co-founder Federico Collarte, and now has over 100 employees and offices in Sydney, San Francisco and Shanghai.

Image: Baraja says it’s lidar system is more tolerant to factors like heat, shock and vibration (Courtesy of Baraja)

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  1. Not a bad idea but how about investing in a built in service avoidance technology for excavation plant.

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