General Motors (NYSE:GM) has announced it intends to purchase Strobe, a company specializing in laser-radar (Lidar) technology. Lidar technology is used to help self-driving cars identify objects at a distance by bouncing laser beams off of objects to gauge their shape and distance. Most autonomous vehicles use multiple lidar units to see the world around them, along with radar and cameras.
The purchase is expected to help GM push into the market for self-driving vehicles. GM has confirmed that the deal has closed. The terms of the deal were not disclosed and a GM spokesperson said that the company couldn’t provide details related to the financials.
Although the sensors once cost $70,000 per unit, the price has plunged in recent years and they have shrunk dramatically in size. Newer models now retail for about $8,000. Strobe’s lidar technology can work using a single computer chip, giving it the potential to reduce the costs of lidar by 99 percent.
Designing an affordable lidar is considered essential to mass-producing autonomous cars. Kyle Vogt, GM’s Cruise Automation chief executive, said, “Strobe’s Lidar technology will significantly improve the cost and capabilities of our vehicles so that we can more quickly accomplish our mission to deploy driverless vehicles at scale.”
GM acquired Cruise in 2016 as part of an effort to develop an urban-self-driving solution and has also invested in self-driving car start-ups like Nauto. The carmaker began producing all-electric Chevy Bolt EVs equipped with Cruise’s integrated technology in 2017. GM’s Cadillac brand now offers a feature called Super Cruise, a Lidar-powered system designed to operate on highways.
Strobe’s 11 employees will now work with Cruise to perfect the technology. Vogt said in the announcement, “Strobe’s Lidar sensors provide both accurate distance and velocity information, which can be checked against similar information from a radar sensor for redundancy.”
Strobe and Cruise researchers will work together at HRL, formerly known as Hughes Research Labs, to develop the lidar. Malibu-based HRL performs research for both GM and Boeing. Strobe CEO Julie Schoenfeld, “Strobe’s deep engineering talent and technology backed by numerous patents will play a significant role in helping GM and Cruise bring these vehicles to market sooner than many think.”
GM is now competing with Silicon Valley companies, like Alphabet and Tesla, that have their own self-driving car projects. GM has been testing its cars in complex urban environments, which could give the company an edge in bringing the cars to market.