Chinese Internet giant Baidu's autonomous driving platform Apollo has partnered with Chinese LiDAR company Hesai Photonics Technology to develop a LiDAR for use in Baidu's fifth-generation self-driving Robotaxi, as reported by local media outlet LatePost on Thursday.

Baidu had co-invested $150 million with Ford in US laser company Velodyne LiDAR in 2016. A year later, Baidu and Lightspeed China Partners led an RMB 250 million Series B round of funding for Hesai.

Baidu launched its Pandora self-driving developer kit in late 2017, using Hesai's LiDAR.

Baidu has also used Hesai's Pandar 40P, Pandar64, and Pandar128 LiDARs, the report said.

Hesai Photonics Technology has been developing LiDAR for unmanned vehicle applications since 2016, with 40-, 64- and 128-beam LiDAR products.

More than 10 of the top 15 Robotaxi companies in terms of total mileage in 2019 used Hesai's LiDAR, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Although CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly called LiDAR "expensive, ugly and unnecessary," most car companies other than Tesla are mainstreaming LiDAR as an autonomous driving sensor.

Baidu released Apollo in April 2017 and then began to focus on Robotaxi.

Starting in 2019, Apollo began Robotaxi trials in Changsha and Beijing, China, and launched its Robotaxi service "Apollo Go" in October 2020, covering dozens of sites in Beijing.

In January, Baidu announced a partnership with to form Auto, a smart car company that will apply Apollo's R&D accumulation to mass-production models.

In its secondary listing prospectus, Baidu said it would strengthen its R&D investment in autonomous driving and that "Robotaxi is one of the biggest profit opportunities for autonomous driving."

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