Ford Motor and Baidu, one of China’s premier search engines, have made a joint investment of $150 million in Velodyne LiDAR – a supplier of the technology that could create self-driving cars.
The investment was made in order to help Velodyne find ways of lowering the costs of producing the technology, which involves expensive light-sensitive radars that allow cars to see a 3D version of their surroundings for up to 200 meters at all times.
Velodyne was already able to lower the cost of its technology from $80,000 to $8,000. However, once the company focuses on mass production, Velodyne expects that the price would be much lower thanks to the R&D investments of both Ford and Baidu.
Velodyne’s current prototype is able to produce 300,000 to 1.2 million data points per second, which makes a car not only defensive on the road but also sensitive against potential dangers from far away.
This technology was made possible through the capturing of high-resolution 3D digital images for mapping, object identification, and in avoiding collisions.
In order to support the development of Velodyne’s technology, Ford announced that it will expand its own facility in Silicon Valley where much of the research and enhancement for self-driving cars are being undertaken.
The facility will expand its 30,000 square foot R&D center into a complex of three buildings with six times as much floor space. As for manpower, Ford expects to double the current number of employees at Silicon Valley by the end of 2017.
Currently, Velodyne works with over 10 automakers, as well as several other tech firms. However, its partnership with Ford is quite possibly the biggest. Both companies have worked together for years, and they’ve been together ever since Ford announced that it was adding 20 fusion hybrid autonomous vehicles, which were all fitted with technology from Velodyne.
As of today, Velodyne has developed four generations of its solid-state LiDAR systems. The newest one is a smaller version of its predecessors, and has a longer range for detecting things on the road.
Baidu, which deals with the development of software, is a good partner for Velodyne to help penetrate the Chinese market. Baidu is a trusted brand in China, and it will be able to help position Velodyn in the middle of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers.
China remains a key partner for many countries despite its current economic crisis. In an article by FXCM, it suggests certain market observers have articulated worries that the slump that China suffered last year points to a potential economic collapse. Despite the skepticism, some experts are confident that the country will be able to get back on its feet soon due to its economy recovering faster than expected.
Currently, Velodyne is experiencing tough competition from leading manufacturer Tesla. The electric car manufacturer has a similar technology to LiDAR called Autopilot, which is currently installed on some of its sedans and SUVs. Autopilot uses a combination of radar, GPS navigation, ultrasonics, and cameras to make driving safer for users.