Velodyne’s HDL-64E Lidar Sensor Looks Back on a Legendary Career
May 19, 2021 | By Velodyne Lidar

Reminiscing About the Lidar Sensor that Started an Industry

Hi, everyone. It’s the Velodyne HDL-64E lidar sensor here.

Velodyne's HDL-64E lidar sensor saying hello for its retirement post

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the good folks at Velodyne are retiring me, the HDL-64E.

As I kick back and put sunglasses on my lasers, let’s take a few minutes to scan through my career. It’s been an epic journey.

Velodyne Lidar's HDL-64 sensor in a swimming pool

It Began with a Race

Velodyne Founder David Hall had the idea back in February 2005 to enter the 2nd DARPA Grand Challenge, an autonomous vehicle race. By September, David installed his first prototype lidar sensor, which eventually became me, the HDL-64E.

David along with his brother Bruce made a strong showing in the race among the original 40 entrants, but they were not among the five who completed the entire course. However, David had found his next product. The experience led him to forgo future competitions and instead commercialize the sensor.

By the time the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge arrived, Velodyne’s HDL-64E lidar sensor was mounted atop five of the six vehicles that finished the race! With this performance, Tom Abate, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, called Velodyne “the clear winner.”

The HDL-64E lidar sensor was on five of the six vehicles that finished the DARPA 2007 Urban Challenge race

To mark my unique inventiveness, a sample version was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. I am part of the museum’s permanent robotics collection!

Off to the Roadways

Only five years later, Google unveiled a secret project that started in 2009 involving driverless cars. The project included a fleet of robotic Toyota Priuses that took to the streets with a human monitoring from behind the wheel. Soon, technology buffs around the San Francisco Bay Area were spotting the vehicles, which included a roof rack assembly with a spinning HDL-64E lidar sensor.

The HDL-64E lidar sensor on top of a Google Prius fleet car in 2009

By 2016, Google had renamed the project as Waymo and claimed over two million miles driven on public roads across the United States, all with a Velodyne sensor mounted on top.

Getting the Job Done

I was designed for obstacle detection and navigation of autonomous ground vehicles and marine vessels. And, having been built on Velodyne’s ‘558 patent, I provide a full 360-degree environmental view to deliver accurate real-time 3D data.

In commercial and military applications, I have powered safe autonomy for my customers.

I have helped Caterpillar autonomous mining trucks safely move 2.1 billion tonnes of oil sands, iron ore, copper, and gold in North America, South America, and Australia. Caterpillar autonomous trucks travel enough to circle the globe two times per day.

HDL-64E on the Caterpillar autonomous mining truck

I have provided support for our troops as part of the Squad Mission Support System developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Army. This driverless vehicle can track and follow the movements of a single soldier, and handle cargo movement for small units, casualty evacuation and backup power support.

I have also hit the seas – providing the “eyes” for the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel developed by Textron and its partners for the U.S. Navy. These vessels can execute a range of missions including mine and anti-submarine warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and more.

HDL-64E lidar sensor providing the “eyes” for the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel developed by Textron and its partners for the U.S. Navy

My Days on the Red Carpet

My experience has not been all grunt work. I have had some glamour in my life too!

I helped my friends at Radiohead dazzle their fans in the music video for their hit song House of Cards.

I showed the world how a driverless truck can outperform a truck driven by a human in the BBC America show TOP GEAR, which might have been the world’s most popular TV show at the time. But who’s keeping track?

I shared the movie spotlight with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship.

I still haven’t gotten used to the paparazzi my star power attracts!

Time to Move On

These vignettes have been just a sprinkling of the more than 64 customers (I sure like that number!) I have had the pleasure to be the “eyes” for in their work. With over 1,200 sensors sold, I have travelled the globe, covering 20 countries in North and South America, Europe, and Asia.

Velodyne may be retiring me, the legendary HDL-64E, but we have a great team of other sensors available to keep doing amazing work for our customers.

Time for me to put my receptors up on the couch and enjoy watching my colleagues shine.

The Velodyne HDL-64E lidar sensor relaxing on the couch after retirement

About Velodyne Lidar

Velodyne Lidar (Nasdaq: VLDR, VLDRW) ushered in a new era of autonomous technology with the invention of real-time surround view lidar sensors. Velodyne, a global leader in lidar, is known for its broad portfolio of breakthrough lidar technologies. Velodyne’s revolutionary sensor and software solutions provide flexibility, quality and performance to meet the needs of a wide range of industries, including robotics, industrial, intelligent infrastructure, autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Through continuous innovation, Velodyne strives to transform lives and communities by advancing safer mobility for all.

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