Lidar Pioneer Velodyne to Become a Public Company in a Reverse Merger Deal
San Jose California-based lidar company Velodyne Lidar Inc. is becoming a public company in a reverse merger agreement with Graf Industrial Corp. (GRAF), a special special purpose acquisition company.
As part of the reverse merger agreement, GRAF will be renamed "Velodyne Lidar, Inc." and will remain listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the new ticker symbol VLDR. The funds raised will be combined with up to $117 million that GRAF had already raised from its existing investors.
The agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of Q3 2020.
Velodyne has over 300 customers, including major automotive OEMs and leading tech companies developing perception technologies for self-driving vehicles, autonomous shuttles and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), including lidar for autonomous delivery vehicles that carry goods rather than people.
Velodyne is backed by strategic investors, including Ford Motor Co., Baidu, Nikon and Hyundai Mobis. The existing investors will retain an equity interest of more than 80% in the new company.
"Partnering with Graf Industrial will provide the opportunity to enhance our leading position in the lidar and sensor markets broadly around the world, creating new and exciting opportunities for our customers and employees," said Velodyne's CEO Anand Gopalan.
The first self-drving vehicles developed by Google (now Alphabet Inc.) used Velodyne lidar units mounted on the roof.
Velodyne was founded in 1983 as a speaker company building subwoofers. However the company switched focus to become a pioneer in the development of lidar, which is an acronym for "light detection and ranging." Velodyne founder David Hall invented real-time 360 degree lidar systems back in 2005.
Since then, the lidar technology has become an essential piece of hardware for self-driving vehicles, acting as the "eyes" of the vehicle. However, lidar also can be used for vehicle ADAS, such as automated cruise control, collision avoidance systems and emergency braking systems offered on many vehicles models today.
Using pulses of laser light, lidar can generate 3D images of a vehicle's surroundings.
Lidar works by bouncing pulses of laser light off of objects and measuring the time its takes for the beams to reflect back. The reflected light is used to generate a precise, three-dimensional lidar image of the object, whether it's a vehicle, tree, pedestrian, or mailbox.
When lidar is combined with AI and robotics, it can help a self-driving vehicle to safely navigate. The 3D images generated by lidar are detailed enough to see which direction pedestrians are facing at an intersection, which supports an autonomous vehicle's AI-based prediction and motion planning software.
When Google began working on self-driving cars in 2009, Velodyne was chosen as the supplier of lidar to the company. At the time, the lidar units were bulky mechanical devices, resembling a spinning bucket on the roof of Google's first self-driving vehicles.
Velodyne's newest systems however include much more advanced solid state lidar technology, with no moving parts, which are much more reliable for use in automotive ADAS.
In July 2019, Velodyne announced the acquisition of high-definition mapping and localization software company Mapper.ai. The deal included the intellectual property assets from the San Francisco-based startup.
Mapper.ai specializes in creating custom, high-definition maps for its clients working on developing advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) using lidar technology. With its acquisition of Mapper.ai, Velodyne has moved into the software space, developing ADAS systems that incorporate lidar technology.
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