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Velodyne Acquires HD Mapping Startup Mapper.ai to Advance its Lidar-based Driver Assist Software

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【Summary】Velodyne Lidar Inc announced on Monday that it acquired the high-definition mapping and localization software, as well as the intellectual property assets from San Francisco-based startup Mapper.ai. Mapper.ai specializes in creating custom, high-definition maps for its clients working on autonomous driving.

Eric Walz    Jul 23, 2019 4:10 PM PT
Velodyne Acquires HD Mapping Startup Mapper.ai to Advance its Lidar-based Driver Assist Software
A Lidar illustration (Photo: Velodyne Lidar Inc)

Velodyne Lidar Inc announced on Monday that it acquired the high-definition mapping and localization software, as well as the intellectual property assets from San Francisco-based startup Mapper.ai. Mapper.ai specializes in creating custom, high-definition maps for its clients working on autonomous driving. The company claims it can build a map of anywhere in the world in as little as 24 hours. 

The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Velodyne is best known for its pioneering work on lidar. With its acquisition of Mapper.ai, the company is now moving into the software space, developing advanced driver assist systems using lidar technology.

Mapper.ai's highly-detailed mapping and localization technology will enable Velodyne to accelerate development of its Vella software, which the company claims is a breakthrough advanced driver assistance solution based on the company's Velarray lidar sensor

"Velodyne has both created the market for high-fidelity automotive lidar and established itself as the leader. We have been Velodyne customers for years and have already integrated their lidar sensors into easily deployable solutions for scalable high-definition mapping," said Dr. Nikhil Naikal, founder and CEO of Mapper, who is joining Velodyne. "We are excited to use our technology to speed up Velodyne's lidar-centric software approach to ADAS."

Velodyne's Vella software, when combined with the company's lidar, supports advanced automotive safety system (ADAS) technologies, such as Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC).

The high-definition (HD) maps created by Mapper.ai are crucial for helping autonomous vehicles (AVs) operate safely. A map for an autonomous car is different from the maps drivers use for navigation. These maps offer a much higher level of detail, with centimeter-level accuracy of road lanes to keep an autonomous vehicle centered in a lane and perform other driving maneuvers like a human driver.

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The HD maps developed by Mapper.ai offer centimeter level accuracy for self-driving cars. (Photo: Mapper.ai)

Velodyne says its lidar technology is precise enough to support high-speed, highway autonomous driving. The company's Velarray lidar is the first solid-state lidar sensor that is embeddable and small enough to fit behind a vehicle's windshield. Mass production of the Velarray lidar sensor is scheduled to being in 2020.

Along with acquiring all of Mapper.ai's intellectual property, Velodyne announced that Mapper.ai's entire leadership and engineering teams will join Velodyne, bolstering the company's large and growing software development team. 

The new talent will augment the current software team of engineers working on Vella software, which will accelerate Velodyne's production of more advanced ADAS systems for self-driving vehicles.

"The goal in the automotive market is to make transportation safer. By adding Vella software to our broad portfolio of lidar technology, Velodyne is poised to revolutionize ADAS performance and safety," said Anand Gopalan, CTO at Velodyne. "Expanding our team to develop Vella is a giant step towards achieving our goal of mass producing an ADAS solution that dramatically improves roadway safety. Mapper technology gives us access to some key algorithmic elements and accelerates our development timeline. Together, our sensors and software will allow powerful lidar-based safety solutions to be available on every vehicle."

Velodyne was founded in 1983 as Velodyne Acoustics, making high-end audio speakers and subwoofers. Founder and CEO, David Hall, invented the company's real-time surround view lidar systems in 2005. Hall's lidar breakthrough revolutionized perception and autonomy for automotive, mapping, robotics, and security.

Velodyne spun off its lidar division as a separate company in 2016 called Velodyne Lidar. The company's lidar is being used by dozens of companies that are working on autonomous driving technology, including automaker Ford Motor Company.

Lidar, which is an acronym for "light detecting and ranging," has become an essential sensor in the development of driverless cars. Velodyne's commercial lidar sensors were used on the first self-driving cars developed by Google over a decade ago.

Lidar works by bouncing laser beams off objects and measuring the time it takes for the laser beams to reflect back to the sensor. This generates a lidar "point cloud" which can be used to create a 360 degree, 3D rendering of the environment around a vehicle.

Lidar can be used to detect objects such as nearby vehicles, trees, buildings, pedestrians and bicyclists. When combined with perception software, cameras and radar the lidar acts as the "eyes" of a self-driving car.

In addition to moving into ADAS, Velodyne will incorporate Mapper.ai's technology into lidar solutions for other applications, including autonomous vehicles, last-mile autonomous delivery services, security, smart cities, robotics, and drones.

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