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The leading autonomous vehicle company is winding down its commercial LiDAR business. It will no longer sell its LiDAR sensors to third-party companies. We first saw this report from Reuters and have since confirmed it independently with Waymo.
“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.
In 2019, Waymo began selling its short-range Laser Bear Honeycomb LiDAR to customers that didn’t compete with its robotaxi business. At the time, Waymo said initial targets included robotics, security and agricultural companies.
So this is a reversal of strategy after about 2.5 years. Former Waymo CEO John Krafcik left the company in April 2021, and several other executives have also left in recent months. Tim Willis, former GM of Waymo’s LiDAR business, left in February. He joined LiDAR company Aeva, a publicly-traded business that recently completed its merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) InterPrivate Acquisition.
According to Reuters, Australian company Droid + Robot tested prototype robots that used Waymo’s Honeycomb LiDAR in mines. “Everyone knew the risks associated with that venture,” Mat Allan, manager of perception and AI, 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.”
Waymo began manufacturing its own LIDAR sensors in 2011 to reduce cost. At the time, Waymo said it could lower the unit price from $75,000 for an off-the-shelf LIDAR sensor to just $7,500 with its own custom version. However, it’s unclear how much revenue was generated by selling LiDAR sensors to third-party companies. At press time, Waymo didn’t disclose how many LiDAR units it sold or how many customers it had.
Waymo just launched a limited robotaxi service in San Francisco that is open to select riders. The “research-focused program” allows San Franciscans to take an autonomous ride in a Waymo all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicle. The vehicles are equipped with Waymo’s fifth-generation autonomous driving system, which included major upgrades to cameras, radar, and LIDAR sensors. Reuters reports Waymo is considering both internal technology and external suppliers for its next-generation LiDAR sensors.
In October 2020, Waymo opened its Level 4 driverless robotaxi service, called Waymo One, to the general public in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The driverless Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans operate in about a 50-square-mile area in the suburbs of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Tempe. It was awarded a 2021 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award for this accomplishment.