Self-driving winter: Baidu’s investment in lidar giant silates out of China

Velodyne, the global lidar giant involved in investments such as Baidu and Ford, has just decided to cut more than 20 people from its China office and stop selling lidar directly in China, according to an exclusive source obtained by Tiger Sniff. A source told Tiger-Son that Velodyne China received an official notification from its U.S. headquarters over the weekend that Velodyne CEO David Hall had finally decided to cancel the entire Chinese direct sales team and some of its technical teams, leaving only a few people in charge of channel and after-sales to major customers. Product sales return to “agent mode” when they first entered China.

“On the one hand, the price competitiveness of the product itself in China, on the other hand, the development of China’s self-driving market has almost stalled. A self-driving person with an understanding of the inside story sighs.

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

The test car, which was parked in the open space of Tencent’s Beijing headquarters last weekend, still uses Velodyne’s old 64-line lidar

As an important sensor technology, it is well known that lidar, which senses and depicts obstacles by emitting lasers, has a core value of “reliable and accurate ranging capability”.

As a result, it is recognized by the industry’s rigorous self-driving technology experts as an essential key component for self-driving cars above the L3 level.

Velodyne, the first and undisputed top supplier of lidar to enter the market, had a monopoly on almost the entire in-vehicle lidar market until 2017.

Its chief executive, David Hall, is not the inventor of the hardware of lidar, but its “three-dimensional point cloud” system, based on lidar, is capable of “discovering” obstacles with a single, fixed line of sight.

It was Hall’s invention that made Velodyne’s product sedrita technology standard for self-driving cars.

So if it was two or three years ago, you could see a large gyro with the Velodyne logo on the roof of an L4-class self-driving car on display at any big autopilot conference.

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

In August 2016, Baidu’s self-driving cars were on the roof of the Velodyne 64 line they had just invested in the same year.

According to a set of digital figures released by Velodyne in March 2019, since 2007, Velodyne’s lidar sales have exceeded 30,000 units, with sales of $500 million.

In addition, in August 2016, Velodyne received a joint investment of up to $150 million from Ford and Baidu (both of which paid $75 million each);

In 2018, Nikon also invested $25 million (about 177 million yuan) in Velodyne to develop solid-state lidars that can enter the automotive supply chain system in cooperation with production production.

And this year, on October 24, 2019, the lidar unicorn announced a $50million investment from Hyundai Mobis, a South Korean auto parts company.

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

Lidar’s greatest advantage is that it uses a 3D point cloud to accurately “depict” self-driving cars

However, it is this time that the market has changed dramatically over the past two years.

On the one hand, a large number of lidar start-ups with the self-driving track investment boom, go to the market;

On the other hand, the goal of “significantly reducing lidar costs” set by all relevant companies as early as 2016 has not been achieved;

The new and old lidar company three years ago, the voice of the mouth will soon be able to launch the car-level products – solid-state / mixed solid-state lidar, has been difficult to produce, so that “embrace the car factory” this road has always hovered in the research and development level.

Yes, people are still living on structurally unstable, and “dead” mechanical rotary lidars to “make a living”.

In other words, they can only be sold to companies with self-driving testing businesses.

This is embarrassing for Velodyne, a veteran lidar company, because while they can produce the best-quality, well-performing mechanical rotary lidar, they ignore the “product reverse disassembling” and “micro-innovation” capabilities of local Chinese companies.

In August, Velodyne filed two lawsuits in California District Court suing Chinese lidar start-ups Quicken-Creative and Yansai Technology for copying their key technologies and seriously threatening the company’s business.

But the lawsuit doesn’t seem to be over until now.

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

In October, someone saw the product on the car of Zoox, a Silicon Valley self-driving star.

The market is so cruel that all companies choose the cheaper one, subject to closer product performance.

According to a Velodyne insider, Velodyne’s 16-line line line (the higher the number of lidar lines, the higher the scanning clarity, the higher the accuracy of recognition). The 16 line is also the number of lines that most low-end and high-end self-driving cars will be configured, the greatest demand, the most mature technology), has been a serious threat to the rapid rise, the latter is almost 1/2 of the former price.

Velodyne’s high-line 64-line products, the 40-line products encountered a fierce attack, the latter also put the business into Silicon Valley. Many of the cars on the streets of San Francisco are wearing a laser radar, according to a Silicon Valley industry source. This means that customers who do high-level self-driving cars (L3-or-so) have also been taken away.

Finally, the 128-line product, which symbolizes “the ultimate in technology” and retails for up to 700,000. Although this product line leaves Velodyne with few rivals in the market, it has few people who use “high and low”, and can contribute not much to Velodyne’s sales.

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

Velodyne 128 Line Products

One of Velodyne’s biggest investors, Baidu also began replacing all of its 64-line lidars this year with the 40-line lidar in the race.

And at this year’s Baidu Developerconference, Baidu engineers to the tiger sniffing slot, said that now lidar with the line number of clarity effect tends to be consistent, domestic manufacturers in addition to cheaper, technical support is more timely.

In addition, Wenyuan, a Chinese self-driving unicorn company with a commercial goal of operating a fleet of L4-class self-driving taxis, has replaced the Velodyne lidar in the car with a product of the race.

“You see Baidu doesn’t need Velodyne’s products, you know what they’re doing in China,” says one self-driving start-up, arguing that the lidar market leader is “stuck” in the Chinese market because the entire self-driving development environment has entered a depression.

“While it can’t be said that there’s no half-point relationship with China’s trade frictions with the U.S., you’ll find that the development of these emerging components is based on the ups and downs of the ‘tidal’ of self-driving cars.

The future of the self-driving circuit is uncertain, the lidar technology bottleneck is also too late to break through (solid-state products have not been able to), for now, the market is actually too small to accommodate a few companies. “

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

Rapidly creating lidar

I’ve talked more than once before about the topic of “autonomous driving is over.” Velodyne’s move is just one concrete manifestation of this megatrend.

Velodyne insiders told Tiger Sniff that if lidar companies had previously looked at the self-driving incremental market, for all players in the market, everyone could only keep their own “one acre and three points” – focusing on maintaining the stock market.

“There are few new companies on the self-driving circuit, and there are few new companies to sell in our products.

It can only be said that there is a self-driving team to expand the test fleet, there is new demand. In addition to this requirement, we have very few new orders. “

In fact, as more and more auto-driving technology companies and self-driving technology companies see little hope of landing in a short time, in addition to postponing or canceling landing plans, they are beginning to shift their targets toward “optimizing the vehicle’s ADAS capabilities”, which will clearly affect the entire on-board lidar market.

That’s right, we can only go to the car company’s thighs.

However, in the “self-insecure” situation, car companies can come up with money with lidar companies to do joint research and development demands are even more rare.

And those who “in 2021 and 2022 with on-board lidar production vehicles will land” flag, in addition to the proof is only flag, do not know whether to let some lidar companies to survive until that time.

A source told Tiger-smelling that Velodyne’s research and development projects in China and domestic and foreign car companies, as well as bulk purchases from large customers, are on hold. For example, joint research and development of hybrid solid-state vehicle regulation products, but these are more long-term plans for 3 to 5 years.

“These projects are direct lying to the research and development team at headquarters, conducting in-depth joint research and development, and have little to do with the local team. We don’t have a lab or a research and development team on our side. “

A Chinese self-branded car engineer has previously confirmed the claim to Tiger-Snr, who is testing Velodyne’s Mems hybrid solid-state product Velarry line, which is doing well.

“They’re learning to be smart about this kind of mass production that might really be too much of a car to go, and they’re not going to disclose any product details. “

Today, neither mass-produced vehicles nor lidar have yet a mature and successful product. The latter in the cost and form of the “progress” to a large extent determines the former came out of time.

This undoubtedly highlights the key to companies defending technology intellectual property rights.

“In fact, the current feedback from the garages, except for Velodyne and Valeo, foreign star companies that claim to be able to produce solid-state lidars, such as innoviz and luminar, have not made much progress. A garage engineer spits out the groove.

To a large extent, in order to adapt to the current slow pace of self-driving development, Velodyne, while focusing on the car factory, selectively abandoned China’s low demand for mechanical products of the autopilot test fleet orders, the restoration of a few years ago when the “agent” model.

“China’s market is not good to gnaw, competition has its own way, which is in recent years many foreign companies have withdrawn from China another reason. “

Self-driving winter: Baidu's investment in lidar giant silates out of China

The car that Baidu will be exhibiting at the 2019 Developers Conference has already used the products of the race.

It’s not just Velodyne that has been hit by the winter of self-driving, its investor, Baidu’s self-driving business group, has recently made structural changes that hint at a curious direction for the market as a whole.

Earlier media reports, Baidu is on the smart driving business group to make organizational restructuring, promote the merger of the L3 smart car business unit and L4 self-driving business unit.

But in fact, as early as December 2016 Baidu internal news that will split the unmanned car business. At that time, we wrote speculation that the L3 business unit will be with the L4 division “fit together”.

Although for many years, the self-driving industry famous “L3 is progressive, L4 is leapfrog”, but now, there is no “crossing” path. And the technical departments of the two divisions would have done almost the same thing.

A source familiar with the restructuring told Tiger that Mr. Rudd “left a tail” when he left office in 2018 as he hoped to push Baidu to unify its self-driving research and development business everywhere.

“Resources can’t be shared, everybody’s doing the same thing, it’s a waste. Beijing a bunch to do vision, Shenzhen a bunch to do vision, the United States also has a bunch to do visual. When I was there, there was almost no contact and no ventilation everywhere. “

But ultimately, the unmanned car business was split and the L3 and L4 mergers and reorganizations were not completed until November 2019.

And eliminating the waste of resources must be accompanied by “cutting off some of the duplicates” – layoffs.

A self-driving industry source in the Silicon Valley region told Tiger-Smell that Baidu’s U.S. office had more than 100 people, but now there is only about a third left.

“It’s about ‘voluntarily leaving’, but it’s actually the company talking to you and then asking you to sign ‘voluntary go’. “He thinks Baidu Is a strong u.S. research, so he feels very sorry.

In addition, he said this year Baidu’s booth at CES has also been withdrawn, a bit of “all low-key from Jane” feeling.

“It’s also related to the fact that the current input and output of autonomous driving are not proportional to output, but in order to save money, it is also helpless to do so.” “

Now the reality shows that for the fermentation period too long “autopilot”, the fate of the decision, but is no longer technology.

“The whole market has cooled sharply, leaving behind companies that have the money and the resources to think about. “One employee who had just left Velodyne said.

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