What could possibly bring an American car manufacturer and a Chinese search engine giant together? Self-driving car technology, of course. Receiving a joint investment from both firms for this purpose is Velodyne, a Silicon Valley company responsible for a puck-shaped lidar — a laser-based radar system that serves as the “eyes” of an autonomous vehicle, allowing vehicles to navigate streets and highways sans human help. Velodyne has managed to raise an impressive $150 million from Ford and Baidu.
There’s been no shortage of collaboration between automakers and tech companies in the race to put self-driving cars on the roads first. And with this latest cash influx into Velodyne, that race looks to be heating up in a pretty serious way.
Lidar is of course a critical component for autonomous cars. It works much like a radar by bouncing light waves off of nearby objects to determine their location, painting a picture of a car’s surroundings. And with Ford and Baidu’s investment, this technology could be made cheaper, which could in turn have an effect on the price of driverless cars as a whole.
Velodyne in a statement indicated that it anticipates an “exponential increase” in the demand for its technology. “This investment will accelerate the cost reduction and scaling of Velodyne’s industry-leading lidar sensors,” said the company’s CEO and founder David Hall, “making them widely accessible and enabling mass deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.”
“As companies have moved from functionality to a never-failing mindset, they’ve embraced lidar as something that fills the gaps of camera and radar-based technology,” he told Fortune. “We’re expanding rapidly.”