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Velodyne & Nikon Announce Manufacturing Deal to Mass Produce Lidar Sensors for Self-Driving Cars

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【Summary】Velodyne today announced an agreement with Nikon Corporation, under which Nikon will manufacture lidar sensors for Velodyne. Nikon hopes to start mass production in the second half of 2019. The partnership will focus on combining Nikon’s optical and precision technologies with Velodyne’s lidar sensors.

Eric Walz    Apr 25, 2019 1:06 PM PT
Velodyne & Nikon Announce Manufacturing Deal to Mass Produce Lidar Sensors for Self-Driving Cars
Lidar uses laser pulses to render a 3D representation of this city street. (Photo: Velodyne)

One familiar sight in Silicon Valley are self-driving cars operating on public roads with a lidar unit mounted on the roof. For many developers of self-driving cars, the lidar of choice is often a Velodyne product. Founded in 1983 and headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Velodyne is a leading supplier of lidar sensors to the automotive industry with more than 250 customers globally.

Velodyne today announced an agreement with Nikon Corporation, under which Sendai Nikon Corporation (a Nikon subsidiary), will manufacture lidar sensors for Velodyne. Nikon hopes to start mass production in the second half of 2019. The partnership will focus on combining Nikon's optical and precision technologies with Velodyne's lidar sensors and help Velodyne expand its presence in the global lidar sensor market.

The Silicon Valley-based company is known worldwide for its portfolio of breakthrough lidar sensor technologies. In 2005, Velodyne's Founder and CEO, David Hall, invented real-time surround view lidar systems, revolutionizing perception for autonomous vehicles, mapping and robotics.

Velodyne supplied this lidar to Google for its early self-driving car development. However, the early units from Velodyne were bulky and expensive, resembling a "spinning bucket" on the roof of a autonomous vehicle. Now that demand for lidar is rising, Velodyne is partnering with Nikon to mass produce, much smaller, lower cost lidar sensors for the commercial rollout of autonomous driving vehicles and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS).

"Mass production of our high-performance lidar sensors is key to advancing Velodyne's immediate plans to expand sales in North America, Europe, and Asia," said Marta Hall, President and CBDO, Velodyne Lidar. "With this partnership, Velodyne affirms its leadership role in designing, producing, and selling lidar for worldwide implementation. For years, Velodyne has been perfecting lidar technology to produce thousands of lidar units for autonomous vehicles (AVs) and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). It is our goal to produce lidar in the millions of units with manufacturing partners such as Nikon."

LiDAR, an acronym for "Light Detection And Ranging", measures the distance of an object by using a pulsed laser beams. The lidar unit bounces a laser off an object at an extremely high rate (millions of laser pulses every second) and measures how long the laser takes to reflect off that surface. These laser pulses generate a precise, three-dimensional image of the object, whether it's a vehicle, tree, pedestrian, or the road ahead.

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Silicon Valley company Voyage uses a roof-mounted Velodyne lidar for its autonomous driving minivans.

Lidar has become an essential technology for driverless vehicles, allowing them to navigate through urban roads when combined with cameras and other ultrasonic sensors.

Velodyne will leverage Nikon's mass manufacturing expertise as demand increases for lidar in other fields, including including robotics, security, mapping, agriculture, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

"Working with Nikon, an expert in precision manufacturing, is a major step toward lowering the cost of our lidar products. Nikon is notable for expertly mass-producing cameras while retaining high standards of performance and uncompromising quality. Together, Velodyne and Nikon will apply the same attention to detail and quality to the mass production of lidar. Lidar sensors will retain the highest standards while at the same time achieving a price that will be more affordable for customers around the world," said Hall.

Nikon invested $25 million in Velodyne last year to collaborate on development and manufacturing of more reliable, solid-state lidar, which have no moving parts and are much smaller.

Velodyne also received $150 million in funding from the Ford Motor Co and China's Baidu in 2016 to develop and mass produce lower cost lidar for autonomous driving and advanced vehicle safety systems.

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