Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ford, Baidu Invest $150 Million for Lidar Sensors to Improve Self- Driving Cars

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ford, Baidu Invest $150 Million for Lidar Sensors to Improve Self- Driving Cars

Article excerpt

As the race to put self-driving cars on the road heats up, Ford Motor Company and Chinese search engine giant Baidu are investing in a company that makes one of the car's core technologies.

Velodyne, a California-based company that makes puck shaped lidar (for light detection and ranging) sensors, announced Tuesday that it had secured $150 million in funding from the two companies.

As a slew of companies have moved into testing their own autonomous vehicles, Ford argues that increased investments in the technology could lead to a large-scale transformation in how cars are made.

"It's a very exciting time in the industry," Mark Fields, Ford's chief executive, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday. "Our view is autonomous vehicles could have just as much [of an] impact on society as Ford's moving assembly line did 100 years ago."

Lidar could be a critical piece of that path.

Also known for its use in architectural modeling, the technology works by sending out millions of tiny bursts of light every second. Though invisible to the human eye, the light bounces off buildings, objects, and people, producing detailed renderings of an environment that combine with cameras and other sensors to act as a self- driving car's "eyes" on the road.

Mike Jellen, Velodyne's president, told USA Today the company currently works with 25 self-driving car programs. One notable exception is electric carmaker Tesla, which doesn't use the technology in cars that use its Autopilot mode.

With two to four lidar sensors used per car, the company could profit handsomely if self-driving cars become commercially available. "Annual unit sales of 200 to 300 million is realistic," Mr. Jellen said.

The company, which originally began as a maker of audio equipment, particularly emphasizes its technology's potential to increase safety on the road.

"We want the cost to be low enough to be used for all cars. We envision a safer world for the millions of automotive drivers across the globe," Marta Hall, Velodyne's president of business development, said in a statement.

By investing in lidar technology, Ford and Baidu are also taking aim at their rivals. …

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