Waymo sells its LiDAR to others
Waymo has announced that it will start selling its customer LiDAR sensors. The company will initially target companies outside the self-driving industry. Selling LiDAR tech to third parties will create economies of scale, making the sensors cheaper and eventually helping Waymo scale its autonomous tech faster.
Waymo has developed three LiDAR sensors, for short, medium and long range. The company is only going to sell its short-range sensor, called Laser Bear Honeycomb. It has a minimum range of zero, which means it can see objects immediately in front of it. Its most useful application would be for detecting (and then avoiding) nearby objects at low speeds.
So as not to upset the balance with its competitors and within the market, Waymo is initially targeting sales of its Laser Bear Honeycomb at companies outside of the self-driving vehicle industry. For instance: robotics, security and agricultural technology.
The company says it already has some clients but was not willing to reveal names – or prices. However, going on former statements by Waymo CEO John Krafcik and on likely technological progress since then, the cost of a LiDAR sensor by Waymo could be lower than $5,000 (€4,450) per unit.
LiDAR is a technology that uses laser light to generate 3D maps of the environment around a vehicle, thus helping it navigate its surroundings – of course especially useful for autonomous vehicles.
Many industry experts consider LiDAR the crucial technology to achieve lift-off on so-called ‘robo-taxis’: fully autonomous, driverless vehicles that – if and when the technology is sophisticated and safe enough – are predicted to transform the whole mobility ecosystem.
No surprise then that LiDAR is a popular field: at the latest count, more than 70 companies are developing the technology. Perhaps the best -known name in this sector is Velodyne, which has supplied LiDAR sensors to most companies developing self-driving vehicles – including, back in 2012, Waymo (when it was still Google’s nameless self-driving project).
Last year alone, venture-capital deals focusing on LiDAR added up to $650 million – 34% more than in 2017. The most highly-valued LiDAR companies at the moment are (in descending order): Quanergy ($2.3 bn), Velodyne ($900 m), Aurora ($583 m), Ouster ($212 m) and DroneDeloy ($140 m).
LiDAR technology was at the heart of Waymo's recent legal dispute with Uber. In 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber for theft of trade secrets by a former Google engineer afterwards employed by Uber. The two companies settled out of court last year.