Laser eyes for driverless cars: Baraja sets sights on growth

Laser eyes for driverless cars: Baraja sets sights on growth

The success of driverless cars comes down to the accuracy of their vision and one Sydney startup believes Australia is a “genius” location to develop technology to give vehicles sight.

“We make the laser eyes for driverless cars – that’s the simple way of thining about it,” says co-founder of Baraja, Cibby Pulikkaseril. Cibby Pulikkaseril and Federico Collarte of Baraja. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer There aren’t many automated vehicles trawling the streets of Sydney or Melbourne yet, but Baraja is betting that Australian consumers will soon be taking on the benefits of the $245 billion driverless vehicle sector.

“A lot of younger people don’t learn to drive, and then there’s the popularity of ridesharing, to have that [cars] on demand. Autonomous vehicles will bring that to everybody,” Pulikkaseril says.

Over the past three years, Baraja has been developing a technology called Spectrum Scan LiDAR, a sensor system where an engine and a sensor work together to harness light of different wavelengths to help cars scan the space around them.

It’s going to take time before consumer vehicles come to market, but in the meantime the company says it has formed partnerships with developers with possible applications for everything from self-driving trucks to robo taxis.

Pulikkaseril and co-founder Federico Collarte say their approach to these sensors ups the ante on other scanners on the market and is immune to interference from the outside world when it comes to processing a car’s position.

Six months ago, the company raised $45 million led by Sequoia China and Main Sequence Ventures and now, Pulikkaseril says, the business has started to generate revenue based on work with clients, including those in China. The business has also received investment from Blackbird Ventrues.

The company is tightlipped on its valuation but has been growing its team in recent months. It has 100 staff on board across the US, Australia and China and will have 130 by the end of 2019 as it looks to launch a European base.

Baraja has sales teams in Silicon Valley and China, though it’s likely to keep calling Australia home because of its positioning to sell into the Asia Pacific and Australia’s strong R&D program. Keeping the Australian base

“We seem like we are geniuses for staying here,” Pulikkaseril says.

“The geography has been great for R&D.”

The future of the research and development tax incentive scheme is still unknown, with the federal government proposing caps to the rebate in 2018 which were then put on ice after a review of the legislation.

Pulikkaseril says Baraja would be able to continue claiming within the proposed caps, though says it’s clear the system is an encouraging factor for companies like his staying in Australia to pursue research.

The issue of global talent for startups has also been front and centre this year with concerns entrepreneurial visas aren’t working, thought Baraja has found there’s strong local talent in the driverless technology space here.

“Compared with the Valley, you can get very high quality talent here – and people stay.”

When it comes to high quality automated vehicles on our roads, Australians need to keep in mind that a lot of the technology is not being designed for our roads, Pulikkaseril says.

“Because we drive on the other side of the road compared with China and US, a lot of AI is being trained not for our roads.”

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