GM's Cruise buys LIDAR company to drastically cut self-driving costs

Cruise’s self-driving cars seen in the basement garage of the company’s San Francisco headquarters. Cruise announced Monday that it is buying Strobe a Pasadena startup that makes laser-based sensors

Cruise’s self-driving cars seen in the basement garage of the company’s San Francisco headquarters. Cruise announced Monday that it is buying Strobe a Pasadena startup that makes laser-based sensors

Vogt says that decreasing costs for autonomous vehicles will be key in deploying them across a range of different areas, including in the suburbs and outside of major cities, where now the economics would make it hard to deploy something like an autonomous ride hailing service.

Cruise Automation is now testing autonomous vehicles in San Francisco that could eventually be produced on a mass market basis. Strobe's engineering team is going to join GM's Cruise Automation team to define and develop next-generation lidar solutions. Another startup, Luminar, recently revealed the scale of its own operation, and it's also announced that it's working with Toyota Research Institute along with other select partners to add its capabilities to autonomous test vehicles on the road. That's why it's an important part of making self-driving cars a reality.

Cruise Chief Executive Kyle Vogt said in a blog post announcing the acquisition that he saw Strobe's technology as a cornerstone to mass-manufactured autonomous vehicles. That number may apply to 2018 too. As self-driving technology continues to evolve, Lidar's accuracy will play a critical role in its deployment. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has famously touted LIDAR as "unnecessary" in the context of an autonomous auto due to its high cost.

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By reducing the entire sensor down to a single chip, Strobe's system should reduce the cost of each LIDAR on its self-driving cars by 99 percent, he said. GM's first fully self-driving vehicle coming to market will be a version of the electric Chevrolet Bolt EV, GM's CFO Chuck Stevens announced this spring.

Strobe was co-founded by a longtime Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, and one of its board members used to run a series of self-driving auto races for the federal government - the DARPA Challenges - that helped create the autonomous vehicle industry. Tesla, Daimler and others are working to make self-driving vehicles a reality.

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