Autonomous Driving

Velodyne LiDAR Gets $150M Investment from Ford & Baidu

First off, LiDAR is aa detection system which works on the principle of radar, but uses light from a laser. Why should you care? Well, they are a critical component in 3D mapping systems- and- based on this investment from Ford & Baidu, likely to be critical to the goal of achieving fully autonomous driving in the not-too-distant future.

Velodyne LiDAR is a privately-held California-based company, founded by David Hall in 2007.  The original Velodyne, also founded by David Hall in 1983,  was an audio company specializing in low-frequency sound and subwoofer technology.  Starting in 2007, Velodyne expanded into LiDAR technology following on from their experience in the 2005 with the DARPA Grand Challenge sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Effectively a race for autonomous vehicles across the Mojave desert, DARPA’s goal was to stimulate autonomous vehicle technology development for both military and commercial applications. Velodyne entered the competition as Team DAD (Digital Audio Drive). They developed technology for visualizing the environment, first using a dual video camera approach and later developing the laser-based system that laid the foundation for Velodyne’s current LiDAR products. The first Velodyne LiDAR scanner was about 30 inches in diameter and weighed close to 100 lbs. Choosing to commercialize the LiDAR scanner instead of competing in subsequent challenge events, Velodyne was able to dramatically reduce the sensor’s size and weight while also improving performance. Velodyne’s HDL-64E LiDAR sensor was the primary means of terrain map construction and obstacle detection for all the top DARPA Urban Challenge teams in 2007 and used by five out of six of the finishing teams, including the winning and second-place teams. In 2010, Google tested self-driving cars on the streets in the Bay Area using Velodyne’s LiDAR technology. Since then, Velodyne’s LiDAR’s  have been seen on mobile mapping vehicles by Nokia Here, Microsoft Bing Maps, Tencent, Baidu, TomTom and Apple’s mapping vans. Leading mapping providers like Topcon and Leica Geo-systems have chosen Velodyne’s scanners for their turnkey mobile solutions.

This investment by Ford & Baidu is particularly interesting in view of the fact that Tesla, arguably the company with the most advanced driverless technology on the market today- doesn’t believe that LiDAR is required for safe autonomous driving.

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