GM to buy sensor-tech firm Strobe to speed up self-driving car push

DETROIT (Reuters) - No. 1 U.S. automaker General Motors Co GM.N said on Monday it would buy Strobe Inc, which uses LIDAR technology to help self-driving cars identify objects at a distance, to speed up development of autonomous vehicles and slash sensor costs.

The corporate logo of General Motors is seen at the facilities of the company in Valencia, Venezuela, August 15, 2017. Picture taken August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

LIDAR is one of the major sensor technologies used in autonomous, or self-driving vehicles, and there is fierce competition between large automakers to bring the cars to market first.

Fully self-driving vehicles are expected to hit the market in a limited form by around 2020. GM and its U.S. rival Ford Motor Co F.N have both publicly stated that they aim to have fully self-driving cars on sale by 2021.

“This acquisition is a game changer for GM and Cruise,” because of the cost savings it will bring,” Kyle Vogt, chief executive of GM’s Cruise Automation unit, said.

“We’ve made this acquisition because we aim to speed our path to market,” he added.

Strobe’s new microchip LIDAR system would significantly enhance the capabilities of the self-driving cars GM was developing, Vogt said in a blog post and on a conference call with reporters.

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.

The technology provided not just a distance measurement for an object on the road - vehicles, people and objects - but also measured that object’s velocity.

“This is really important for self-driving cars, especially in challenging situations,” Vogt said.

Vogt did not disclose financial terms, but said 11 full-time Strobe employees would join Cruise as part of the deal.

He said last week that the unit was making “rapid progress” toward deploying self-driving cars in part through testing vehicles on the crowded streets of San Francisco.

In morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, GM shares were up 26 cents at $45.20.

Additional reporting by Arunima Banerjee; Editing by Susan Thomas