Velodyne Slashes Lidar Sensor Price in Half

No brand is more associated with Lidar than Velodyne. In a self-driving car sector that lacks widespread industry standards, Velodyne Lidar sensors are one of the few pieces of hardware that are used by just about everyone.

Lidar sensors, which emit millions of laser pulses per second to build a virtual rendering of a physical environment, have been in use since the early 1960s. However, at the 2005 DARPA Grand ChallengeVelodyne Founder and CEO David Hall unveiled a major innovation by using a rotating Lidar device to help guide the autonomous system of a driverless car.

While the rotating Lidar mechanism was replicated by a number of AV developers in the following years, Velodyne has remained the industry leader for vehicular Lidar.

Because of its position and scale, when Velodyne makes an announcement people take notice. And Velodyne entered 2018 with a bang. On New Year’s Day, the company revealed that it was halving the price of its VLP-16 sensor, its most popular Lidar system. Released in 2016 at a $8,000 price point, the VLP-16 will now cost $4,000.

“Demand for our VLP-16s grew tremendously in 2017. As a result, we increased capacity and now can pass along savings as cost reduction to our customers,” Hall wrote in a statement. “We want to make 2018 a year of optimism for the autonomous vehicle, especially as the first waves of robocabs hit the road. Our goal is the democratization of transportation safety by making it accessible to every man, woman, and child in the world as quickly as possible.”

As its name indicates, the VLP-16 is a 16-channel Lidar.

This means it offers lower resolution and a lower level of performance than sensors with a greater number of channels, including Velodyne’s own Ultra Puck VLP-32C, the HDL-64E, and the recently announced VLS-128. But, as Steve LeVine points out at Axios, AV designers ranging from Apple to robotaxi company Zoox have outfitted functional driverless prototypes with several VLP-16s to mimic the functionality of a smaller number of higher-end sensors. At its new price point, the VLP-16 becomes even more attractive option for companies in the early stages of autonomous vehicle testing.

The price reduction was enabled by the recent commencement of operations at Velodyne’s new “Megafactory” in San Jose, a manufacturing facility that has made production more efficient, according to Hall.

“Since its launch, customers have been lining up to purchase the VLP-16 and we’ve been able to meet that growing demand by expanding production and developing automated manufacturing for Lidar sensors at the Megafactory,” he said. “With this cost reduction, we’ll be able to get more Pucks into the hands of more customers, support the growing number of autonomous vehicle development fleets around the world, and start creating a better tomorrow.”

Despite Velodyne’s market position, it faces no shortage of competition in the emerging market from companies like Ouster, which offers a 64-channel Lidar that is smaller, lighter and more efficient than Velodyne’s 64-channel offering — and six times less expensive. But with the release of the VLS-128, Velodyne further solidified its position at the top of the market. Now, by slashing prices on the VLP-16, it is ensuring that its products stay competitive in terms of price as well as performance.

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