In a surprise move, Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous vehicle unit said Wednesday it would sell a custom-made “perimeter” laser sensor, known as a lidar, to customers such as warehouse robot makers or physical security system companies–in other words, not to Waymo’s rivals. Waymo uses the lidar on its Chrysler Pacifica minivan prototypes. Whether there will be ample demand for the device remains to be seen, as is Waymo’s ability to develop the right B2B sales channels.
On the other hand, it makes sense that Waymo wants to generate revenue to offset what is likely a billion-dollar annual cost in developing autonomous vehicles. It charges money to riders of its robotaxi prototypes in part of the Phoenix suburbs but that is a tiny business and is unlikely to grow quickly anytime soon, especially given that it requires paying human safety drivers to sit behind the wheel to monitor the system. Selling lidars could help Waymo drive down the cost of producing them and thus make its prototypes and robotaxi service a little more affordable.
The price of the Waymo lidar was not disclosed. Lidar pioneer Velodyne generates at least tens of millions of dollars a year selling devices to customers outside the autonomous vehicle industry.