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.
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.
A 2017 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan equipped with Waymo's self-driving vehicle technology. Waymo, the company born from Alphabet's Google Self-Driving Car research project, faces mounting competition to perfect technology needed for fully autonomous vehicles. After staying low key about its progress, the latest indications from the new company are that it's far along the path to making such vehicles a reality by taking cost out of the components and boosting overall performance and reliability. John Krafcik, Waymo's chief executive officer, said at the Automobili-D conference in Detroit that the latest sensors, software, artificial intelligence and other components -- all developed and built in-house -- are being used for a fleet of 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, the first batch of which will begin public road tests in California and Arizona this month, he said. Keeping development and production in-house has led to major cost savings, including a 90% reduction for the laser Lidar sensor riding atop the new Pacificas.