Google sister company Waymo is to stop selling its lidar sensors to other businesses, two years after the venture began.

The self-driving technology company, owned by Google parent Alphabet, began manufacturing its own Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) sensors in early 2017, saying it could dramatically reduce the cost of the equipment by doing so.

At the time, Waymo said it could lower the price from $75,000 (£54,000) for off-the-shelf lidar to only $7,500.

In 2019 it began selling its “Laser Bear Honeycomb” lidar to customers outside the self-driving field, including the robotics, security and agricultural  technology industries.

Image credit: Waymo

‘Economies of scale’

The company said at the time this would contribute to lowering prices through “economies of scale”. It isn’t clear whether the sales were achieving their desired effect.

Lidar sensors use laser points to map out the environment around a vehicle, and are able to penetrate through difficult weather conditions such as rain or fog.

Most autonomous vehicle companies use the technology, but Tesla chief executive Elon Musk – whose cars use cameras instead – has said it is too expensive and that firms relying on it are “doomed”.

“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,” Waymo said in a statement.

The company said it would continue to build lidars in-house. Reuters reported that the company is considering both internal technology and external suppliers for its next-generation lidars.

Executive departures

The shift comes soon after the departure of long-term chief executive John Krafcik, as well other executives.

Tim Willis, general manager of the Laser Bear lidars, left Waymo in February for lidar company Aeva.

After developing its technology for more than a decade, Waymo currently operates an autonomous taxi service only in a limited area of the Phoenix suburbs, where it conducts around 1,000 to 2,000 rides per week.

The company last week launched testing with a limited public in the San Francisco area using a Jaguar electric car and a new suite of sensors.

It also has a number of pilots for delivery services using its autonomous semi-trailer trucks.

Last year it was estimated that Alphabet has spent more than $3.5bn on Waymo over the years.

In June the division raised another $2.5bn from investors including Alphabet as well as a range of others.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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