Velodyne is the most important car component company of the 21st century

By:   Fedora Atjeh Fedora Atjeh   |   9/26/2017 11:28:00 PM

Velodyne It does not ring you, does it? Or you may remember, in any case, a brand of stereo speakers. As this brand of speakers, founded in 1983, has become a key player in the race to develop the ubiquitous autonomous technology. Established in Silicon Valley, Velodyne names three technology companies based on sound systems, marine solutions and LiDAR systems.

It has been established in such a way that it has positioned itself as the leading supplier of these systems that allow autonomous cars to see their surroundings with a precision that has come to provoke a war between Waymo and Uber. Only Tesla is resistant to Velodyne, because it does not use this system.

Velodyne is set to begin production at its mega automated factory in San Jose, California, as Ford, along with Chinese Internet giant Baidu, injected $ 150 million into the technology company last year. They plan to manufacture one million units a year.

But before being where she is, Velodyne has had to swing from one sphere to another in an unusual move in Silicon Valley, but that has worked, and very well. It began in 1983 with the development of loudspeaker components, but competition in China caused its founder, David Hall, to look for something more ambitious. They also played for a while the robots on a British television show: their robot Drillzilla gained fame. But it was in 2004 when they saw the potential of autonomous driving hand in the military sphere.

It was following a contest to design vehicles for the desert and sponsored by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency what planted the seed of what is today Velodyne LiDAR. They fitted a Toyota Tundra van with a GPS and a camera system with which they did not win the contest, but that marked the way of what Hall wanted to do from that moment.

Analyzing the failures of the other models, we reached the basic development of the original Velodyne LiDAR: shoot 64 laser beams in a 360 degree sweep around the car. It was a success. In the next race in the desert five of the six teams used the Hall system, with each unit costing $ 75,000. Now it sells for $ 8,000.

LiDAR works by firing thousands of laser beams per second at nearby objects and measuring how quickly they recover. It is so effective that, as we have already advanced, has come to provoke a war between Google and Waymo, which boils down to a fight over this technology.

If you remember, Uber, specifically Anthony Levandowski who worked for Google, was convicted of stealing confidential information from Waymo to create a better and cheaper LiDAR. Both use Velodyne technology. But what does it consist of? Basically, as explained by a Ford project, lasers construct a three-dimensional image of the surrounding landscape that allows to detect everything that surrounds the vehicle. They see what the radars and cameras can not.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the company expects revenues to exceed $ 150 million. And is that today Velodyne is the main supplier of LiDAR and sells its sensors to practically all the companies of cars and technology that construct or test autonomous vehicles.

General Motors, Ford, Uber and China Baidu are big buyers, and even Caterpillar uses Velodyne's technology for gigantic robotic mining trucks. Google has also been a major customer for years, although it is now manufacturing its own sensors.

At the moment, Velodyne has to reduce the cost of its sensors, and so the mega factory of San Jose hopes to accelerate production and reduce the cost of its devices to levels that rivals, such as Quanergy, can not match. A gigafactoría of sensors will be the solution.

On its website we can find the 'DHL-64E' with 64 channels and a range of 100 to 120 meters, going through the 32-channel 'HDL-32E' (80-100 meters) to the new 'Puck' 16 channels and a range of up to 100 meters. The most advanced unit can cost more than 47,000 euros, while the 16-channel (the size of two hockey discs) sells for 7,550 euros.

And they are not only used for autonomous vehicles: they are used in agriculture, aeronautics, urban planning, topography, geology, robotics of course, mapping, mining ... LiDAR is the future. But taking into account that autonomous vehicles need several units, the cost becomes astronomical.

At the moment, Velodyne will have to face great challenges: to be able to supply the enormous demand that exists, to reduce costs of a technology that is still very expensive, to reduce the size of the still great sensors and, more importantly, to offer a safe technology that allane the road to driving without a driver. And keep making your speakers.

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