Futuremark, Rightware and now Basemark – Tero Sarkkinen has been the dynamo behind the success stories of three Finnish software companies, managing computer graphics companies in Finland, the United States and China since 1999. Sarkkinen founded Basemark a few years before Chinese company Thundersoft acquired Rightware from him in 2017, which developed software for car user interfaces, graphical instrument clusters and entertainment systems.
- Rightware's other owners asked if I would be interested in buying the same business out of Rightware, which I had originally bought out of Futuremark. It had done its job: the child had grown up and could run faster than the parent, says Sarkkinen, who is now chairman of the board at Basemark and the company's largest shareholder.
Basemark's Rocksolid Engine, a real-time graphics and compute software solution launched in 2017, is targeted for the automotive industry giants. The software processes all the smart car's calculations from its different sensors, orchestrates and schedules the data, thereby optimizing the car performance.
- We make tools for customers who develop artificial intelligence – the algorithms that analyze the data – based on which the self-driving car makes the right decisions in traffic.
Rocksolid Engine is also suitable for machine vision processing in industrial robots and edge devices as well as AR and VR systems.
In the company's early years, the 2015 founded Basemark invested the cashflow from consulting and different projects into developing its own product.
- We were looking for direction in the first three years e.g. with mobile device performance testing software. Then we decided to focus on the automotive industry because self-driving cars are a huge trend and I have an extensive personal network of companies and people in the industry, Sarkkinen recalls.
The clear focus and recruitment of top talent from Finland and around the world has quickly produced profitable growth. Basemark currently has about 40 employees in Helsinki and subsidiaries in Munich and Detroit. The company's customer base includes the world's leading automotive OEMs, semiconductor suppliers like AMD, Intel, Mediatek, NVIDIA and Qualcomm, as well as major companies in consumer electronics and other industries.
Basemark has used Business Finland's product development loan funding to develop the Rocksolid Engine software as well as other projects.
- Business Finland's support has been paramount, especially in the early stages of the company. Without the loans, moving forward so quickly would not have been possible, and we would have had to go to a private equity investor. We grew to a turnover of EUR 8 million without a venture capital investment, says Sarkkinen.
In July 2020, Environmental Technologies Fund (ETF) announced a EUR 7 million capital investment in Basemark. According to ETF, the introduction of autonomous vehicles can reduce transport emissions by as much as 80% through the introduction of Transport as a Service and improved asset utilisation.
- When cars can be shared, there is less need for private car ownership, and the amount of traffic is reduced. Someone can order a half-hour ride in the car while I go to the store, says Sarkkinen.
Safety – and the real-time processing of the vast amount of data needed to deliver it – remain the most significant challenge that is holding back the long-predicted breakthrough of self-driving cars. When it comes to safety, 99% accuracy in the algorithms' decision-making is not enough.
- The challenge increases exponentially when the accuracy has to be 99.999%. If you drive at 120 kilometres per hour, the car is moving more than three metres in a tenth of a second. At the same time, there can be a million data points generated by various sensors, LiDAR, radars and cameras. All that data must be processed in well under ten milliseconds, so the car also has time to think what it needs to do in that situation, Sarkkinen explains.
Even today's top processors may not be powerful enough.
- Currently, even the high-end models consume so much power and produce so much heat that an electric car's operating range can drop by two-thirds. When you brake, a wave of hot air comes from the trunk, as if you are in a sauna.
According to Sarkkinen, the current premium car models are starting to reach Level 3 Conditional Automation, but even the step up to Level 4 High Automation is very demanding. There is plenty of work for Basemark as the automotive industry leaders compete towards Level 5 Full Automation.
- Nevertheless, these cars are now getting pretty close. Automatic parking, lane assist and highway pilot automation take care of most situations quite well. But urban driving, with its many intersections and unpredictable road users, is still especially challenging.
Basemark is using ETFs capital injection to accelerate product development as well as boosting its sales and marketing firepower.
- Our vision is to be the world's most used brain in smart cars, says Sarkkinen.
Chief Sales Officer, Basemark
sami.niska (at) basemark.com
Text: Sami Sallinen