Ford has announced a partnership with Chinese search engine giant Baidu to help fund a $150 million investment in LiDAR company Velodyne. LiDAR – which utilizes laser technology to measure distance – is essential in helping autonomous vehicles navigate without human control.

Ford And Baidu Velodyne LiDAR Technology
Image source: velodynelidar.com

Today, Ford Motor Company and Baidu announced a joint investment of $150 million in Velodyne, which will be used to make the company’s sensors cheaper to produce, which will in turn hopefully lower the cost of self-driving technology.

LiDAR technology essential for autonomous driving systems

LiDAR, an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging, is a surveying technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light. Essentially working like a radar, LiDAR uses light waves instead of radio waves, bouncing signals off nearby objects to gauge their distance. LiDAR allows for the creation of more detailed 3D maps of the sensor’s surroundings.

Ford Motor Company has been collaborating with Velodyne for years now, and was the first automaker in the world to purchase the company’s newest and smallest version of its laser-based radar navigation system. The two companies also worked together on R&D for the majority of Ford’s history with autonomous driving technology, which spans for than ten years.

While Ford’s involvement makes sense, Baidu’s seems a bit more unexpected. However, the Chinese web giant already has their own autonomous driving unit, and has already begun testing its fleet of driverless vehicles in China. Additionally, Baidu also owns a Silicon Valley-based autonomous driving team. In 2013, Ford and Baidu teamed up as partners in order to offer “infotainment” services to their Chinese customers.

With new investment, Velodyne hopes to lower costs for LiDAR tech

While many people think LiDAR is an important ingredient to the development of self-driving automated driver assistance systems, not everyone agrees, most notably Tesla’s Elon Musk. However, the main obstacle in large-scale production of autonomous technology has been the prohibitive cost of LiDAR systems. Velodyne, Ford, and Baidu all hope this investment will help bring down the production cost of the technology.

In a press statement from Velodyne, the company said that they are expecting an “exponential increase” in the demand for LiDAR technology. They hope to make their sensors as cost effective as possible, and David Hall, the company’s CEO and founder, said that “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.”