Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Four Start-Ups Helping Ford Develop A Robo-Taxi By 2021

From Forbes:
Ford Motor says it is skipping over semi-autonomous cars and going straight to fully self-driving ones, with no steering wheel or pedals, by 2021. Ford shares Google’s view, which is that it’s too difficult to safely hand over control from a semi-autonomous car to a human driver in an emergency situation. Instead, Ford says it’s putting all its efforts into fully autonomous cars and will have them ready in five years for ride-hailing and package delivery uses.

To achieve its 2021 target, the carmaker is investing in or collaborating with four start-up firms that have critical know-how. Artificial intelligence is a competitive field with many emerging players; here’s a little bit more about the companies Ford chose to work with.

Of all Ford’s new partners, Velodyne has been around the longest and is the best-known in automotive circles. It is the leader in light-detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, those giant spinning lasers on top of autonomous cars being tested by Google, Ford and others. LiDAR sends out a series of light pulses 360 degrees around the vehicle, gathering data that helps create high-definition 3D maps necessary for self-driving cars.

But Velodyne started out in 1983 in a very different business. Founder David Hall, a graduate of Case Western Reserve University, came up with a high-end, distortion-free subwoofer that set the benchmark for premium bass sound. The speakers were so popular with audiophiles that the company has been self-funded from the start, providing cash for Hall to pivot toward his next idea, LiDAR, in 2007.

Ford invested $75 million (as did China’s Baidu), which is the first time Velodyne has raised outside money, according to Chief Financial Officer Qing Lu. The $150 million cash influx will help Velodyne mass-produce more affordable LiDAR sensors. In just a few years, the cost of its LiDAR systems has fallen from about $70,000 to $8,000. Its newest system is about the size and shape of a hockey puck; it’s working on even smaller, solid-state LiDAR systems.

 Ford discovered SAIPS while scouting for technology in Israel in 2013, and acquired the start-up more recently to strengthen its own artificial intelligence research. SAIPS’ founder and CEO, Udy Danino, worked for California-based Applied Materials AMAT +0.24% before starting SAIPS in 2012. His company specializes in computer vision and “deep learning,” developing algorithms that process images, video and other signals. The software will help Ford vehicles learn and adapt to their environment while driving. Ford did not disclose what it paid to acquires SAIPS....MORE