Google's Waymo to sell its self-driving car sensor tech

March 11, 2019

Google's self-driving car division, Waymo, will begin selling one of its lidar sensors as it hopes to attain production scale and drive down the technology's cost.

Waymo told Bloomberg last week that it will sell the lidar sensors to any company so long as it agrees not to compete directly with its business of self-driving cars for ride-sharing purposes. Waymo launched the industry's first paid ride-share service with self-driving cars last December. The service remains closed to the general public, however, and Waymo must screen and accept those who participate.

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Waymo isn't trying to make money, per se, from selling the lidar. It instead aims to achieve more scale at its production facility. According to the report, the company is already in talks with "dozens" of other companies to potentially begin selling the lidar unit. Lidar is what gives a self-driving car the ability to "see" the world around it in 3D. The sensor sends out fine bursts of laser light, which bounces off of objects, and sends signals back to the system. The system then creates a 3D image and shows the world around the car based on how long it takes for the light to bounce back. It's precise enough to show, for example, a human near a tree and can help predict movement for the self-driving car.

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Some companies have jumped onboard the lidar sensation and have begun using the technology to stock shelves in stores, patrol parking lots, or help with warehousing. The lidar industry is expected to become a $1 billion industry this year. Waymo uses three different lidar sensors for its self-driving cars: one that provides a 360-degree view from atop the car, a long-range forward-facing unit, and one that looks around the car's perimeter. The unit that can see around the car's perimeter is the one Waymo plans to sell.

Waymo hasn't decided against eventually supplying the lidar to automotive suppliers, either. No final decision has been made, though. The company will also provide all software for integration and some support.

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