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Velodyne opens lidar 'megafactory'

18 Jan 2017

San Jose facility set to churn out a million lidar sensors in 2018, with a new lab in nearby Alameda.

Velodyne Lidar, which last year raised $150 million in a venture funding round led by Ford and Baidu, has opened the San Jose “megafactory” where it is planning to make millions of optical sensor devices for autonomous driving applications.

Already producing the firm’s “HDL-64” sensor, the facility will ramp output to an anticipated one million components in 2018, with the firm saying: “That high-volume manufacturing will feed the global demand for Velodyne’s solid-state hybrid lidar, the primary and critical instrument needed for autonomous car systems around the world.”

Front runner
Along with fellow Californian Quanergy Systems, Velodyne has emerged as one of the front-runners in the development of low-cost, solid-state lidar sensors for future automotive applications, its devices now regularly seen on top of early self-driving cars from the likes of Ford (see image below).

On top of the San Jose factory, Velodyne has opened a new research and development facility in Alameda, Oakland, which will be known as “Velodyne Labs”. Engineers there will focus on building advanced lidar and application-specific chips for cars and other industrial applications.

The company’s VP of operations Mark Shandley said that the San Jose factory provided Velodyne with “the space it requires to manufacture its cutting edge, long-range sensors in a single location, as well as the ability to scale to meet growing global customer demand for lidar while pursuing an aggressive growth strategy”.

Lidar-enabled autonomous vehicle development was a key theme at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, with virtually all the automotive industry’s major players showing off their latest ideas.

At the event, senior executives from Intel and Mobileye shared a stage with BMW to discuss their co-development of a sensor fusion approach to autonomous car guidance that the German auto giant believes will enable it to release a fully self-driving model in 2021. Lidar, radar and camera sensors provide the critical sensor data to make that possible.

Growing competition
Aside from Velodyne and Quanergy, a host of other lidar sensor developers are targeting the high-profile sector, among them Germany’s Osram, LeddarTech in Canada, Innoviz and Oryx Vision in Israel, and the Sandia spin-out TriLumina.

They are all aiming to produce solid-state sensors at the kind of price that would allow lidar to become a standard feature in future cars, selling for $250 or less.

Cost aside, some of the key challenges to overcome include ensuring reliable sensing at distances up to 200 meters in all kinds of weather, as well as good performance when the sensors are exposed to low, direct sunlight.

Ford, which last summer announced that, like BMW, it was planning to launch a fully self-driving vehicle by 2021, has also invested in the lidar mapping company Civil Maps, whose software turns raw lidar data into live maps for use in autonomous vehicles.

And at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last week, the company exhibited its self-driving Fusion Hybrid development vehicle, which featured new lidar sensors said to enable a more “targeted” field of vision.

At CES, Civil Maps announced a partnership with Velodyne’s rival Quanergy that saw the two companies demonstrating their integrated technologies in a static vehicle and in a live demonstration on the Las Vegas strip.

While in Vegas, Quanergy also said that it would be ramping production of its own low-cost, solid-state lidar sensors later this year.

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