Carmaker Ford has teamed up with Chinese search engine giant Baidu to jointly invest $150 million in Velodyne, the company that claims to make the smallest and cheapest LiDAR sensors on the planet.

Make no mistake: Velodyne is not a start-up. The company has been working on LiDAR (light, detection and ranging) technology since 2005. The investment will allow Velodyne to rapidly expand the design and production of high performance, cost effective automotive LiDAR sensors, accelerating mass adoption in autonomous vehicle and ADAS applications and therefore accelerating the critical, transformative benefits they provide.

Over the last decade, Velodyne developed four generations of hybrid solid-state LiDAR systems incorporating the company’s proprietary software and algorithms that interpret rich data gathered from the environment via highly accurate laser-based sensors to create high resolution 3D digital images used for mapping, localisation, object identification and collision avoidance. Velodyne’s LIDAR solutions are capable of producing 300K to 2.2 million data points per second with a range up to 200 metres at centimetre-level accuracy. The company’s high performance LiDAR technology has been recognised by global automotive OEMs and rideshare customers as a critical element enabling the development of fully autonomous vehicles.

EDNA Velodyne Figure 1: Roadmap to Automation-Driver Driven to Driverless Vehicles (Source: Business Wire)

“LiDAR continues to prove itself as the critical sensor for safe autonomous vehicle operation,” said David Hall, founder and CEO, Velodyne LiDAR. “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."

“From the very beginning of our autonomous vehicle program, we saw LiDAR as key enabler due to its sensing capabilities and how it complements radar and cameras,” said Raj Nair, Ford Executive Vice President, Product Development and Chief Technical Officer. “Ford has a long-standing relationship with Velodyne and our investment is a clear sign of our commitment to making autonomous vehicles available for consumers around the world.”

This isn’t the first time that Ford has worked with Velodyne. In January, the car company ordered Velodyne's driver assistance LiDAR sensor, according to TechCrunch. Baidu's participation, on the other hand, is much more unexpected.

The Chinese company, however, said it shares Velodyne’s vision to promote safety for autonomous vehicles on a global scale, and in particular in Baidu’s home market in China, where Baidu is already testing its fleet of autonomous vehicles.

“Baidu is developing autonomous vehicles with the intention to increase passenger safety and reduce traffic congestion and pollution in China,” said Jing Wang, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Autonomous Driving Unit of Baidu. “Our investment will accelerate our efforts in autonomous driving with what, in our view, are the best LiDAR sensors available today and advance Velodyne’s development of increasingly sophisticated LiDAR sensors.”