Blickfeld is in the top 150 of the European Startup Prize for Mobility
Please introduce yourself and your startup Blickfeld to our readers!
I’m Florian Petit, one of the Blickfeld founders. Before founding Blickfeld, I was occupied with controlling robots as part of my scientific work. I did my PhD in the field of human-machine collaboration. One of the greatest learnings of my work in robotics was that environment perception is a key challenge. There is a methodology called “Sense, Plan, Act” in robotics, and “Sensing”, so capturing and perceiving the environment, is probably the most difficult part for machines. We humans rely heavily on our eyes. We’re very good at gathering information on our surrounding by seeing it. Machines need sensors to do that.
And that is what we’re working on at Blickfeld. We’re basically building eyes for machines. We develop LiDARs, which capture the environment in 3D. That is a very reliable and safe way of seeing the world and that is why experts think that every autonomous car in the future will use multiple LiDARs. My co-founders, Rolf and Mathias, also have extensive experience in that area. They had founded an optical sensor company before we founded Blickfeld together. You could say, we all have a fascination for environment perception.
How did you get the idea to Blickfeld?
A bit more than two years ago, we looked into why today’s most sophisticated 3D LiDARs, are so expensive today. We found that their setup is incredibly complex, they have gears, bearings, and many lasers and detectors built into them, which makes them expensive to build, and at the same time large, heavy, and not very robust. That is a big problem because experts agree that autonomous vehicles will need lots of LiDARs to safely navigate. The performant model today costs around 85,000 US Dollars and is so large, that they can only fit on top of the car. Not suitable for series car production.
We at Blickfeld simplified the LiDAR set-up by re-inventing a core component. It’s a so-called ‘MEMS mirror’ and it is made out of silicone, the stuff computer chips are made out of. That allows us to build small, light, robust, and affordable LiDARs. Thereby making high-performance LiDAR technology available to the mass market, which is crucial in making autonomous cars a reality.
How difficult was the start and what challenges you had to overcome?
We founded Blickfeld two years ago and today our team has around80 people. We’re growing very fast, which is great, but it’s challenging too. We need to find so many highly qualified people and convince them to come join us. I have the impression, that especially people with a technical background are very interested in the challenge of developing such a complex technology, that definitely helps when you’re competing for talent.
The automotive industry has extremely long development cycles. As a start-up in this sector you need investors that believe in the long-term success of your company. To achieve that the market has to be attractive enough and you need to prove your product can fulfil the market need.
When you’re developing hardware like we are, one difficulty is that it’s ‘obvious’. People could steal your technology, so you need to protect your project against fraud. Thankfully, one of our founding partners is a patent attorney, we’ve filed more than 30 patents on our IP.
Who is your target audience?
Mobility is huge and automation in this sector has big advantages for the customers. There are not only various application areas in the car (front facing LiDAR for motorway, mid-range for urban traffic and for example blind spot detectors for driver assistance…). The many LiDAR applications outside vehicles, where the precise detection of the environment is important, are also very promising for our business. We can imagine intelligent traffic lights and buildings that warn pedestrians, cyclists and cars of each other at dangerous points. Or mobile robots and autonomous drones that find their way safely. Even applications like industrial monitoring and geo measurements can benefit by using LiDARs.
What is the USP of your startup?
LiDAR (Light Detection and ranging) technology still faces many challenges today. There are three major problems: LiDARs today are big and heavy, they are prone to failure and they are very expensive. There is no high-end and robust mass product available today. Blickfeld re-invented one core component of the LiDAR – the beam deflection unit. We built a so-called MEMS mirror specifically designed for LiDARs. This component simplifies the whole setup significantly, thereby solving these problems. The result is a performant, robust and mass manufacturable LiDAR, perfectly suited for e.g. the automotive mass market.
Can you describe a typical workday of you?
The short answer is no. I might be at a fair in the United States, pitching the Blickfeld technology on stage. I might be in Asia visiting business partners discussing future collaboration, or I might be at the Blickfeld office in Munich responding to RFIs (request for information) by automotive or IoT companies, or planning the mass production of our first product, the Blickfeld Cube, with my team.
Where do you see yourself and your startup Blickfeld in five years?
Environment perception is a key technology in the mobility sector, where sensing will help with making autonomous cars a reality.
Perceiving the surrounding is also incredibly valuable in many other sectors. Imagine implementing optical 3D sensors in the infrastructure. You could make the traffic ‘smart’, avoiding traffic jams and car crashes. Or think about industrial applications. You could keep track your inventory and available space, e.g. large stockpiles of material or remaining space in trucks or warehouses. This allows predictive planning and can significantly reduce the costs of management and operation.
Within the next five years we see the Blickfeld LiDAR sensors integrated in many autonomous cars, making them safe and reliable. And we see our technology being deployed in multiple industrial, farming and smart city applications – even those we haven’t even thought about yet!
You are one of the top 150 European Startup Prize for Mobility. How it’s going on?
It’s really nice to see so many start-ups all over Europe working on the mobility of tomorrow. The prize offers a good platform to bring all these companies together and raise awareness for the innovative ideas out there. We’ve seen very interesting ideas among the other applicants!
And of course, we are very honoured to be among the Top 50 startups nominated for the European Startup Prize for Mobility.
What 3 tips would you give other Start-up founders on the way?
My first tip is to get together the right founding team. Ideally someone already has experience with founding a start-up or gained some experience by working in one. There are so many things to think about when you’re building a company. You have to build teams, you have to find investors, and get your idea market ready. What I also find very helpful is having a team with diverse knowledge.
My second tip is to work hard on creating opportunities for your company. Approach potential customers and talk to them about your start-up and your product. Embrace being challenged and see it as a chance to improve your product. Understand what people need and what not. People that believe in your product are extremely valuable, especially if they pay you money for it
And lastly: Build a cool product!
More information you will find here
Thank you Florian Petit for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.