Velodyne LiDAR, a specialist in Light, Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, has announced the completion of a combined US$150m investment from Ford Motor and Chinese search engine company Baidu.

"The investment will allow Velodyne to rapidly expand the design and production of high performance, cost effective automotive LiDAR sensors, accelerating mass adoption in autonomous vehicle and ADAS applications and therefore accelerating the critical, transformative benefits they provide," Velodyne said in a statement.

Over the last decade, Velodyne has developed four generations of hybrid solid-state LiDAR systems incorporating the company's proprietary software and algorithms that interpret data gathered from the environment via laser-based sensors to create high resolution 3D digital images used for mapping, localisation, object identification and collision avoidance. The supplier's technology is seen by global OEMs and rideshare customers as a critical element enabling the development of fully autonomous vehicles.

"LiDAR continues to prove itself as the critical sensor for safe autonomous vehicle operation," said David Hall, founder and CEO. "This investment will accelerate the cost reduction and scaling of [our] industry-leading sensors, making them widely accessible and enabling mass deployment of fully autonomous vehicles."

"From the very beginning of our autonomous vehicle program, we saw LiDAR as key enabler due to its sensing capabilities and how it complements radar and cameras," said Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer. "[We have] a long-standing relationship with Velodyne and our investment is a clear sign of our commitment to making autonomous vehicles available for consumers around the world."

Baidu is already testing its fleet of autonomous vehicles in China.

"Baidu is developing autonomous vehicles with the intention to increase passenger safety and reduce traffic congestion and pollution in China," said Jing Wang, general manager of the autonomous driving unit. "Our investment will accelerate our efforts in autonomous driving."

Velodyne expects an exponential increase in LiDAR sensor deployments in autonomous vehicles and ADAS applications over the next several years, driving high revenue growth.

The company plans to expand its resources across engineering, operations and manufacturing and add two independent industry executives to its board.

Reuters noted that Ford earlier this year invested in another Silicon Valley firm, Civil Maps, which is developing advanced mapping for self-driving vehicles.

At the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January, Ford said it was tripling its fleet of Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles this year and claimed that made the company's fully autonomous vehicle fleet the largest of all automakers. It also said it would accelerate the development and testing of its virtual driver software in both urban and suburban environments.

This year, Ford was to add 20 Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles, bringing the company's autonomous fleet to about 30 vehicles being tested on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.

Reuters said the Ford test cars use Velodyne sensors to help detect objects and obstacles and provide mapping data. LiDAR is intended to supplement radar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors in self-driving vehicles.

Ford CEO Mark Fields has told CNBC television the automaker is doubling the size of its Silicon Valley research team in Palo Alto to more than 300.

According to the news agency, Baidu in April said it had established a self-driving car team in Sunnyvale, California, focusing on development of such enabling technologies as computer vision, robotics and machine learning.

Baidu last year announced a partnership with BMW to develop self-driving vehicles in China. It plans to begin testing them in the US this year.