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  • By John R. Quain

The Week in Autonomy: Tesla, Waymo, and Lidar

There were two noteworthy announcements this week, both interesting for what they indicated about the current state of the market.

Tesla underwhelmed some fans and business analysts with the reveal of its Tesla Model Y (Y? because we love you) compact electric SUV. The vehicle is a beefed up version of the Model 3, with an available (tiny) third row of seats, but it affords the company entry into the jammed-to-the-rafters compact SUV segment. Everybody from Honda to BMW to Ford is aiming for this market, plus there's the electrified versions of Volvo's SUVs and the Jaguar iPace to compete with.

The $47,000-and-up Model Y didn't break any new ground (others already offer smartphone keyless options, for example), but it shows the company is maturing in the sense of trying to broaden its lineup. And even though analysts weren't impressed, it could turn out to be the company's bestseller (though not until late 2020). Still, the Model Y is not likely to ever be an autonomous vehicle--despite company promises--primarily because Tesla stubbornly refuses to add the necessary lidar sensors, which segues us nicely into....

Waymo quietly revealed that it will sell one type of its in-house developed lidar sensors to third parties. That means you don't have to buy the Google division's whole autonomous kit, just the sensors. The catch: It's not planning to sell them to competitors like Aptiv or Bosch or GM. It will sell the sensors to companies working in "robotics, security, agricultural technology, and more," however. That may be a distinction without a difference, though. Can FedEx buy them for its robo delivery bots? How about perimeter security vehicles?

The Waymo lidar posting underscores just how superheated the market is for lidar sensors (Innoviz, Leddartech, Luminar, Velodyne, Sick, et al). But that market is going to be conquered by whoever can deliver a high-resolution sensor for $50. Anyone willing to bet that Waymo is willing to go that low?

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