That tech laid the foundations of Velodyne's current LiDAR products. Image Source: Digital Trends

Ford Motor Company (NASDAQ: F) and China’s leading search engine company Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU) have invested $150 million in Velodyne’s LiDAR tech for use in autonomous vehicles, vehicle safety systems, and 3D mobile mapping.

The move is the latest one by automakers and tech companies trying to scoop in the evolution of transportation. Google’s Self-Driving Car Project and Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors are currently the frontrunners in autopilot car systems.

Nonetheless, General Motors has vowed to challenge that leadership with its $1 billion purchase of Cruise Automation. Meanwhile, Volkswagen invested $300 million in Gett, the European rival of transportation network company Uber.

Now, Ford and Baidu have entered that race too.

Recognized global leader in Light, Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, Velodyne will use the investment to enhance automotive LiDAR sensors and accelerate mass adoption of secure self-driving cars.

Velodyne turned to LiDAR tech in 2005

Velodyne founders David and Bruce Hall developed the revolutionary 3D laser-based sensor, which scans and visualizes the environment, for the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. The event, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), aimed to stimulate autonomous vehicle technology development for both military and commercial applications.

That tech laid the foundations of Velodyne’s current LiDAR products. The company reduced its sensor’s size and weight and improved its performance for it to be commercialized.

Subsequently, most team’s vehicles in the 2007 edition of the DARPA Challenge used the HDL-64E LiDAR sensor for terrain map construction and obstacle detection.

Since then, Velodyne focused on 3D mobile mapping for use in autonomous vehicles. In 2010, Google’s self-driving cars used Velodyne’s LiDAR technology. Two years later, the company signed a contract with Caterpillar for its off-road vehicles, like diesel-electric locomotives, to use LiDARs.

The HDL-32E sensor has equipped mobile mapping vehicles Nokia Here Microsoft Bing Maps, Tencent, Baidu, TomTom and Apple as well as mapping providers like Topcon and Leica Geosystems.

Ford bets on self-driving tech

On Tuesday, Ford CEO Mark Fields told CNBC’s pre-market program Squawk Box that his company knows the immediate future of the automotive industry is self-driving vehicles.

Therefore, Ford announced plans to accelerate its development of autonomous cars. It will double the size of its staff in Palo Alto, California, to more than 300 employees, expand its offices and labs, and sign new partnerships with self-driving tech companies.

So its $150M investment, along with Baidu, was only logical. Baidu, for its part, shares Velodyne’s vision to promote safety systems for autonomous vehicles.

Jing Wang, VP General Manager of Baidu’s Autonomous Driving Unit, said the Chinese company is already developing such cars in its home country to increase passenger safety and reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

Source: Business Wire