Alphabet’s Waymo to stop selling lidar self-driving car sensors

A Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid self-driving vehicle is parked and on display during a demonstration in Chandler, Ariz., November 29, 2018. REUTERS / Caitlin O’Hara

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 26 (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s (GoogL.O) The self-propelled unit Waymo said Thursday that it had ended its two-year effort to sell light detection and distance sensors (lidar) to other companies.

This is a reversal of his previous strategy of selling the lidars to non-automotive customers in order to reduce the cost of an important and expensive component of self-driving cars.

“We are closing our commercial lidar business and continue to focus on the development and deployment of our Waymo driver in our Waymo One (rideshare) and Waymo Via (delivery) units,” a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement.

However, the spokesman said it will continue to build its lidars in-house.

According to someone familiar with the matter, Waymo is considering both in-house technology and outside suppliers for its next-generation lidars. Continue reading

The move to stop selling lidars comes following the departure of CEO John Krafcik and several other executives, which raised questions about whether Waymo would rethink its strategy after not generating significant revenue for over a decade.

In 2019, Waymo announced it would sell one of its three different in-house lidars to customers in the robotics, agriculture and other sectors, not self-driving car companies.

“We can scale our autonomous technology faster and make every sensor more affordable through economies of scale,” said Simon Verghese, head of the lidar team, at the time.

It wasn’t clear if Waymo was able to generate enough revenue to offset the development and operating costs of its lidar distribution business.

Lidars use laser pulses to measure distances and create precise images of the environment around the car. Most self-propelled companies, including Waymo, say lidars are key to achieving complete autonomy. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said companies that rely on the expensive sensors are “doomed”.

Waymo launched the first commercial self-driving taxis in 2018 and retrofitted Chrysler’s minivan with its own self-driving hardware. But it hasn’t expanded and scaled the technology beyond limited areas in suburban Phoenix, and it recently launched public testing in dense San Francisco with a Jaguar electric car and a new set of sensors. Continue reading

In 2011, Waymo started developing its own sensors from scratch, including three types of lidars, including short-range lidars known as Laser Bear Honeycomb.

However, Tim Willis, general manager of the company’s Laser Bear lidars, left the company in February and switched to lidar company Aeva, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Australian Droid + Robot tested prototype robots with Waymo honeycomb lidars in mines in Australia.

“Everyone knew the risks associated with this company,” Mat Allan, manager of perception and AI at Australian Droid + Robot, told Reuters. “It’s a good product. We haven’t found anything that matches price and performance … It’s a shame we couldn’t continue the journey,” he said.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin, Paresh Dave, Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Gerry Doyle

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