Lidar Maker Velodyne Wins Patent Challenge From Rival Quanergy

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【Summary】Silicon Valley-based Velodyne Lidar Inc. announced it successfully won a patent challenge from newcomer Quanergy, one of many lidar startups looking for a foothold in the growing lidar market for autonomous vehicles.

Eric Walz    May 28, 2019 3:24 PM PT
Lidar Maker Velodyne Wins Patent Challenge From Rival Quanergy
A point cloud generated by lidar (Photo: Velodyne)

Lidar is an important component for self-driving cars, acting as the "eyes" of an autonomous vehicle alongside data fused from radar and cameras. For the automotive industry, lidar is primarily used for object detection and navigation.

One of the most well known manufacturers of lidar is Silicon Valley-based Velodyne Lidar Inc. Velodyne is the highest volume supplier of lidar sensors to the automotive industry with more than 250 customers globally, according to the company. However, Velodyne is working to maintain its lead as numerous lidar startups enter the space.

The Silicon Valley-based company announced it successfully won a patent challenge from newcomer Quanergy, one of many lidar startups looking for a foothold in the growing lidar market for autonomous vehicles. Others include Luminar and Blackmore.

In a May 23 ruling, the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeals Board upheld the patentability of all claims in Velodyne's patent number 7,969,558.

Patent number 7,969,558 relates to a lidar based 3D point cloud measuring system used for autonomous vehicles, advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and other applications. Velodyne was granted its patent on June 28, 2011.

However, Quanergy had challenged Velodyne's patented method for measuring 3D lidar point clouds. Quanergy itself has over a dozen patents relate to lidar perception.

"Velodyne Lidar Inc. is the inventor of the surround view lidar and we were confident that our patent would be upheld," said Velodyne president Marta Hall.

"The ruling was not a surprise because real-time surround view lidar was invented by our Founder, David Hall, and the company holds a number of foundational patents relative to this technology. We are an invention-based company and will always be inventing and innovating technologies, so we take protecting our hard-earned intellectual property seriously. In response to the ruling, we'll be evaluating our enforcement options moving forward."

Velodyne was founded in 1983 and headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Velodyne began as a high-end audio company, designing award winning subwoofers. However today the company is mostly known for its portfolio of breakthrough lidar sensor technologies.

In 2005, Velodyne Founder and CEO, David Hall, invented surround view lidar systems, revolutionizing perception abilities for autonomous vehicles by using rotating unit ,sometimes referred to as a "bucket" to bounce laser beams off objects in a 360 degree field around a vehicle. The lidar technology provides 3D vision, providing "eyes" for robotics and autonomous driving.

Velodyne Once Supplied Lidar to Google for its Self-Driving Cars 

Over the past decade, Velodyne has become one of the leaders in the field of lidar technology. The rotating lidar unit mounted on the roof of a self-driving vehicle has become a familiar sight in Silicon Valley, where dozen of startups and automakers are testing driverless technology.

Velodyne was picked by Google to supply lidar for the tech giant's early self-driving car project, which has since evolved into robo-taxi company Waymo.

Velodyne's sensors are currently sold and used in a wide range of new technologies and rapidly growing industries, including drones, delivery services, mapping for autonomous driving, robotics, agriculture and security.

Investors have poured about $750 million into lidar companies since 2013, peaking in 2017 at $350 million, according to CB Insights, a firm that tracks venture capital activity.

Outside of autonomous cars, the lidar market is also rapidly growing for ADAS, which could reduce forward-facing driving accidents, as well as biking and pedestrian deaths. The 3D vision of lidar is recognized as an important sensor to help a driver detect roadway hazards and increase safety.

In Sept 2014, Quanergy announced a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to supply lidar for the E-Class sedan. The two companies showed off a Mercedes E350 sedan outfitted with Quanergy's lidar devices at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in Jan 2015.

However, its partnership with Mercedes Benz fizzled. According to a 2018 report from Bloomberg, Quanergy has struggled to deliver products and shipped devices that didn't work as well as advertised, although the company continues to improve its technology.

Last June, Quanergy won a Juniper Research award for best consumer product in the automotive & telematics category.

However, according to Bloomberg, Quanergy's biggest challenge is that its autonomous car business hasn't developed rapidly as it thought it would. The company has increasingly focused on other applications for lidar outside of the automotive industry, including using lidar technology for a "digital border wall" between the U.S. and Mexico.

Velodyne has also faced it own challenges. Waymo stopped using the company's lidar sensors and announced it would develop its own sensors in-house, citing the high costs of lidar. Velodyne's most expensive lidar units cost upwards of $75,000, although costs have come down considerably in recent years.

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