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Velodyne just got $150 million from Ford and Baidu to develop its lidar tech

Image used with permission by copyright holder
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.”

Moreover, as Velodyne president and COO Mike Jellen told Fortune, the company is planning on doubling its current employee base of 200 over the next 12 to 18 months, as it continues to find ways to drive down the cost of its sensors. The price has already been cut by a factor of 10 (the latest prototype is just $8,000, down from $80,000), and by 2018, Jellen is targeting a price range between $100 and $150.
“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.”

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