Waymo will sell LIDAR sensors to customers that don’t compete with its robot-taxi service

Waymo announced it will begin selling its custom LiDAR technology to companies outside of the robo-taxi market.


March 7, 2019

Lidar is a core piece of self-driving technology. So much so that it prompted Waymo, Google’s self-driving project, to file a lawsuit against Uber back in 2017 that alleged trade secret theft by its ex-engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Now, Bloomberg reports, Waymo will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors to non-self-driving car companies — ranging from robotics companies to security and agricultural businesses. But this is Google, and this move is not merely about a new revenue stream.

Like sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their heads

Created in the early 1960s, Lidar works by spinning out a fine spray of laser lights and measuring the time it takes for the light to return.

Lidar was first used in meteorology to measure clouds, and caught on with the general public during the Apollo 15 mission, when astronauts used it to map the surface of the moon.

Now, it’s becoming big business: more than $1B in corporate and private investment has been thrown into around 50 Lidar startups over the past 3 years — including a record $420m in 2018 — which are used by most companies (except Tesla) in the race to lead the self-driving car market.

Lidar’s too expensive, but it’s getting better

Pressure to launch self-driving cars has pushed many players to place bets on the tech. But, of the some 70 Lidar startups on the market, automakers have yet to settle on a winner.

The problem being: The industry standard cost of $75k per sensor is too dang spendy. But, in 2017, Waymo’s engineers were able to bring the cost down 90% from $75k to $7.5k.

Now, Waymo’s finally ready to give it up

According to Waymo’s LiDAR chief Simon Verghese, the sales won’t just increase revenue, they will help Waymo scale its autonomous technology faster — making each sensor more affordable.

In other words, increased production of Waymo’s custom LiDAR tech should help make the tech even cheaper for the public — but also for Waymo. According to a Waymo spokesperson, the company is now in talks with dozens of potential customers.

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