Ford and Baidu team up for $150M investment in Velodyne LiDAR

Lidar leader Velodyne has secured a pair of valuable partners in its quest to develop autonomous car sensors.

As the auto industry and tech industries converge to speed development of the self-driving car, you can expect to read about more deals like this one: Silicon Valley's Velodyne LiDAR has just announced that it has completed a $150 million infusion from co-investors Ford Motor and Baidu, the Chinese search engine giant. The specifics of how much money Ford and Baidu have each invested have not been disclosed.

A Ford Fusion test car with Velodyne lidar sensors.

Ford

The development of more accurate, more compact and, chiefly, more affordable lidar sensors are seen as a linchpin in society's move toward autonomous transit, as they allow for vehicle, object and animal detection. According to David Hall, Velodyne founder and CEO, "This investment will accelerate the cost reduction and scaling of Velodyne's industry-leading LiDAR sensors, making them widely accessible and enabling mass deployment of fully autonomous vehicles."

Nearly all automakers agree that lidar will be central to highly automated "Level 3 Driving" -- and beyond -- but the laser-light-based technology does have its detractors. Notably, Tesla Motors' Elon Musk believes that similar results can be achieved through the use of lower-cost cameras and radar systems, but proponents contend that lidar can create more highly detailed 3D maps of what surrounds vehicles.

In July, Ford revealed it has teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to use lidar to predict transit demand by looking at pedestrian movements. For its part, Baidu was already far enough along in developing self-driving cars that it revealed a working prototype in late 2015.

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