Velodyne Lidar, the pioneer of a spinning laser sensor called lidar that is used by most developers of autonomous vehicle prototypes, is prepping a public offering, Business Insider reported. There were no details about the possible offering or the company’s financials, though The Information reported two years ago that Velodyne was projecting it would generate $320 million in 2018, up from $190 million in 2017. It serves several types of customers, including mapping companies such as Google. Last valued at $1.8 billion on paper, Velodyne faces challenges as a public company—namely, existing and new competition. There are at least 50 developers of lidars that have raised outside capital, estimated investor Reilly Brennan.
In the near term, China-based Hesai is among Velodyne’s biggest threats and has eaten into what was a virtual monopoly a few years ago. Alphabet’s Waymo, which has the most robotaxi prototype vehicles on the roads, long ago developed its own lidars due to frustration with Velodyne tech, said people with direct knowledge of the matter. For other lidar makers, the trick will be to develop a sensor that doesn’t break down over time due to friction, like Velodyne’s traditional mechanical sensors do, and at a low enough cost. In combination with cameras and radars, lidars help a car to “see” its surrounding environment. Lidars obtain “structural” information, such as the physical shape of objects and how far away they are from the vehicle, but they cannot see “textural” data such as lane markings, the color in a traffic light or what direction a pedestrian is looking.