Biz Break: Ford puts $75M into Velodyne to boost self-driving car efforts

Top Of The Order: 

The Next Model T?: Henry Ford was famous for many things in his long career building up the automobile industry. And one of the most-famous of those was his line about the options available to a buyer of one of Ford’s Model T cars:

“You can have it in any color you want, as long as its black.”

Yeah, old Henry was kind of set in his ways.

But, maybe in the near future, Ford, the company, will adapt Ford, the man’s, words in as part of a new corporate philosophy? Such as, “You can have it with any features you want, as long as it doesn’t include a steering wheel or pedals.”

OK, that might be a little wordy, but it also might be the truth.

You see, on Tuesday, Ford said it was going to throw more money into the development of autonomous cars, and that it will build a car that car drive itself and will not have a steering wheel or floor pedals by 2021. And to do that, Ford is making more big investments in its Bay Area presence.

One of those is in Morgan Hill-based Velodyne, a maker of LiDAR (Light, Detection and Ranging) sensor technology. Ford is making a $75 million investment in Velodyne with the goal being to “quickly mass-produce a more affordable LiDAR sensor,” that can be used to improve the operation and safety of a self-driving vehicle.

(In addition to Ford, Velodyne is also getting a $75 million investment from Chinese e-commerce giant Baidu, which is also working on autonomous driving vehicles.)

Ford is also going to build a campus in Palo Alto specifically for building autonomous-driving vehicles in Palo Alto that will add 150,000 square feet of workspace to the company’s current facilities, and double the number of Ford’s 130-person staff of researchers and engineers at the location.

Ford says the driverless, steering wheel-less and pedal-less vehicles will be built for fleets of ride-hailing and ride-sharing vehicles, which, if Ford wants to honor its namesake founder properly, will just brand the cars as “The Henry F.”

Middle Innings: 

WhatsApp? $175 Million, That’s What: Over in India, a company you might note have heard of called Hike got an investment of $175 million, giving Hike a valuatoin of $1.4 billion. So, what is Hike, anyway?

Think of it as an Indian WhatsApp. The company offers a messaging app, free voice calls and features such as the ability to send messages to others who don’t have the Hike app. It’s also getting a big hand from Chinese technology company Tencent, which runs the WeChat app that is popular around Asia.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is no slouch in the Indian market, as it has about 100 million users in India to rival Hike’s user base. But with its new investment bucks, Hike is looking at India’s huge base of customers under the age of 30 as a way for it to show up WhatsApp.

Bottom Of The Lineup:

Here’s a look at how some leading Silicon Valley stocks did on Tuesday…

Movin’ On Up: Gains came from Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, Genomic Health, Ultratech and Oclaro.

In The Red: Decliners included Lending Club, ServiceNow, Gigamon, 8×8 and YuMe.

 

The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.7 percent to 5,227.

The blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped by 0.5 percent to 18,552.

And the broad-based Standard & Poor’s 500 Index also gave up 0.6 percent to end the day at 2,178.

Quote Of The Day: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” — Benjamin Franklin

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Photo: A Ford self-driving car outside the company’s research and innovation center in Palo Alto. (Courtesy: Ford).

 

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