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Alphabet's Waymo To No Longer Sell Off Its Lidar Self-Driving Car Sensors

Alphabet's Waymo To No Longer Sell Off Its Lidar Self-Driving Car Sensors
After striving for two years, efforts for selling its light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors to other companies has been ended by Alphabet Inc's self-driving unit Waymo, the company announced this week.
This move by the company is in contrast to its previous strategy of selling off the lidars to non-automotive customers so that cost of a key and expensive component of self-driving cars is brought down.
"We're winding down our commercial lidar business as we maintain our focus on developing and deploying our Waymo Driver across our Waymo One (ride-hailing) and Waymo Via (delivery) units," a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement.
The company will however continue to build its lidars in-house, said the spokesperson.
To make its next-generation lidars, Waymo is considering both internal technology and external suppliers, said reports quoting information from sources familiar with the matter.
This latest decision of the company to stop selling lidars following the exit of CEO John Krafcik and some other executives, which raised questions about whether there would be a rethinking of its strategy by Waymo following the firm not being able to generate significant revenue for more than a decade.
One of its three different in-house lidars was to be sold to customers in robotics, farming and others and not to any rival self-driving car company, Waytmo had said in 2019.
"We can scale our autonomous technology faster, making each sensor more affordable through economies of scale," Simon Verghese, Head of Lidar Team, said at that time.
The company however did not clarify whether enough revenue had been generated sale of lidars to offset the costs of development and operations of its lidar sales business.
Lidars are useful for self-driving technologies as this tech uses laser pulses for measuring distances and rendering precise images of the environment around the car. Most companies developing autonomous technologies, including Waymo, are of the opinion that lidars are crucial in companies achieving full autonomy.
Those Companies that depend on the expensive sensors are "doomed", Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said.
The first commercial self-driving taxis were launched by Waymo in 2018 as it retrofitted Chrysler's minivan with its own self-driving hardware. However, the company has not yet scaled up the technology beyond the limited areas in suburban Phoenix. The company has recently launched public testing around dense San Francisco with a Jaguar electric car and a new suite of sensors.
Waymo had started developing its own set of sensors from scratch in 2011 and over the years it developed three types of lidars, including short-range lidars dubbed Laser Bear Honeycomb.
But in February, the general manager of the company's Laser Bear lidars, Tim Willis, departed from the company and joined lidar company Aeva, according to his LinkedIn profile.
"Everyone knew the risks associated with that venture," 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 to performance... It’s a shame though we couldn’t continue the journey," he said.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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