Google might be getting the most headlines when it comes to self-driving cars, but Ford apparently wants to join the party. The Motley Fool reports Ford has joined forces with the Chinese search-engine giant, Baidu to invest more than $150 million in a maker of sensors that are going to be critical to self-driving cars.
This investment represents a doubling down by Ford in Silicon Valley. While the firm has long been known as one of the largest automotive makers in the world, it is going to great lengths to be more recognizable in the tech world. As part of the investment in this particular technology, the company has said it is going to be expanding its Palo Alto, California research center.
This expansion is going to entail adding two new buildings to the facility and will also ramp up the number of employees that are working there. Right now, Ford has about 130 people working there, and the firm announced on Tuesday it was going to expanding its employee roll to more than 260 workers.
The company Ford and Baidu are investing in is known as Velodyne which specializes in the LiDAR sensor. LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and it uses lasers to construct rather highly detailed maps of the car’s surroundings. This kind of sensor is expected to be a very big deal when cars that are driving themselves become something that is quite a bit more prevalent.
Until very recently, these sensors were considered far too expensive to put out on the mass market. Outside investors like Ford are going to be working to drive the production cost down. Now only is this a big time investment in a burgeoning technology, but it is a real step forward in the self-driving car market.
Velodyne has already been working on coming up with a new version of the sensor that is cheaper to make, while still being the same quality level. These smaller sensors are called “Pucks” because of their size and shape. Those Pucks were most recently shown off earlier this year at the annual CES.
Ford’s Palo Alto facility has long been focusing on self-driving car technology, and these moves show the company is getting ready to go all in on the tech.