Waymo from 2011 has been developing its own set of sensors from the ground up, including three different types of lidars. The company is now making these sensors available to companies outside of self-driving?--?beginning with robotics, security, agricultural technology, and more?--?so they can achieve their own technological breakthroughs. The company has announced that one of our 3D lidar sensors, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, is available to select partners. According to the company, Laser Bear Honeycomb is a best-in-class perimeter sensor. That means one Honeycomb can do the job of three other 3D sensors stacked on top of one another.
The small mound on the back of Waymo's self-driving cars is for sale. The Alphabet-owned autonomous car company is making its "homemade" LiDAR sensor, the Laser Bear Honeycomb, available to other companies. In a blog post Wednesday, the company said it's offering the light-measuring device to car companies, as well as firms in other industries such as robotics, manufacturing, agriculture, security, entertainment, and gaming. Imagine a security robot guarding a building or a camera rig scanning a movie set. Right now, the device sits on the self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans Waymo has been using in Arizona and the Bay Area.
Yandex, the Russia-based company specializing in internet-related products and transportation services, is getting into the lidar sensor business. In a Medium post in which the company revealed that its autonomous cars have driven over 1.5 million miles combined, up from 1 million in October, Yandex detailed two custom software-defined lidar sensors it says it has been testing on vehicles in Moscow. Yandex expects that it will also eventually use them on its recently revealed delivery robot, Yandex.Rover. Lidar sensors measure the distance to target objects by illuminating them with laser light and measuring the reflected pulses. They're a core part of a number of driverless vehicle systems, including those developed by Alphabet's Waymo, Uber, and GM's Cruise, and their applications extend to verticals like robotics, industry, security, and agricultural sectors.
If you're a company that makes robots, farm tools, security tech, or really anything that isn't a self-driving car, Waymo has a lidar to sell you. The autonomous tech company that started life in 2009 as Google's self-driving-car project announced today it's creating a new revenue stream by selling its custom-developed, short range laser sensors. It's a bit unexpected, considering Waymo waged a bruising legal fight with Uber to protect this most valuable of sensing technologies, but it also signals that Waymo is exploring business models that don't hinge on yanking the human from behind the wheel. Waymo started developing its own lidar in 2011, after deciding existing sensors--chiefly those created by Velodyne, the company that pioneered the automotive lidar market--weren't sufficient for its needs. Over the next eight years, it said during its lawsuit against Uber, Waymo put "tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of engineering time" into its custom solution.
If you've been in Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh, Boston, San Francisco, or any of the other cities where autonomous cars are crawling the streets in a 21st century version of drivers ed, maybe you've wondered: What's up with that overgrown gumdrop-looking spinning thing on the roof? That, dear carbon-based life form, is lidar, perhaps the most important piece of hardware in the race to unlock self-driving cars for everybody.