Baidu Inc has added fuel to its effort to put driverless cars into mass production within five years with its multimillion dollar investment on Tuesday in a major US producer of lidar sensors, a key technology that helps the cars "see" their surrounding environment by using light to measure distance.
California-based Velodyne LiDAR Inc, which provides sensor technology that can help driverless cars, announced that it had completed a combined $150 million investment from Ford Motor Co and Baidu.
Beijing-based Baidu did not disclose the size of its investment. But Ford, which announced on Tuesday its plan to produce fully autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services by 2021, said it invested $75 million in the lidar sensor company.
Velodyne, which was founded in 1983, said in a statement that the investment will help the company expand production and make sensors more affordable for the mass deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.
"We want the cost to be low enough to be used for all cars. We envision a safer world for the millions of automotive drivers across the globe," said Marta Hall, Velodyne's president of business development.
Wang Jin, senior vice-president and general manager of autonomous driving unit of Baidu, said the investment will accelerate Baidu's efforts in autonomous driving.
"Baidu is developing autonomous vehicles in order to increase passenger safety and reduce traffic congestion and pollution in China," he said in the statement.
The investment to gear up expansion in autonomous driving comes at a time when Baidu's traditional search business has been weakened by the tighter controls over internet advertisements, and it is looking at driverless vehicles to become a new engine to spur the company's growth.
An industry observer said that the investment is expected to help Baidu achieve its ambitious goal of getting driverless cars on the road within three years, and putting these cars into mass production within five years.
Zeng Zhiling, managing director of LMC Automotive Consulting Co Ltd, said that the investment is the right way forward for Baidu to expand its business.