Velodyne Lidar is famous for creating those hockey pucks stuck all over driverless car prototypes. The company was founded back in 1983 and since then has released various models of their technology.
This Lidar technology sends out lasers into the world and measures how long the reflection of light takes to measure the distance to an object. By doing this in 360 degrees, over a span of time, it is possible to create a 3D map of an environment.
Over the decades, the company has increased the resolution of this mapping and found many uses in the automotive space as company’s pursue the challenge of building an autonomous car.
Velodyne found their way to partnerships with Ford, Baidu, Navya and many more, who leverage this technology to position their vehicle in relation to what is known as a HD Map of an environment (usually part of a city).
Things haven’t exactly panned out the way it was meant to for Lidar. Back in 2017, I covered an announcement by Ford that said it would have full autonomous vehicles by 2021 that leveraged ‘new LiDAR sensors’.
It seems there’s severe cultural issues at Velodyne, with the now ex-Founder holding approximately 98,506,156 shares or 54.7% of the outstanding common stock of Velodyne Lidar, just walking out the door. He didn’t leave quietly, with the following letter (first published by Bloomberg), showing just how unhappy Hall was with the Board.
This isn’t your average disgruntled employee, this is the founder who created this company, made it his life’s work and just had to walk away.
March 9, 2021
Velodyne Lidar, Inc.
5521 Hellyer Avenue
San Jose, CA 95138
Attn: Board of Directors
Dear Velodyne Lidar Board of Directors (the “Board”):
I am writing to you today to directly refute the statements regarding my resignation from the Board included in Velodyne Lidar’s (the “Company”) recent Form 8-K filing. These statements do not accurately depict why I resigned and instead focus on the Company’s decision to publicly censure Marta Hall and I based on unfounded claims which we strongly refute.
To be completely clear: I chose to resign from the Board because I had numerous concerns about the strategic direction and current leadership of Velodyne Lidar.
As the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of Velodyne Lidar, I oversaw years of growth and success that ultimately laid the groundwork for the Company to go public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”) in 2020. Despite serving as the Executive Chairman of the Board following Velodyne Lidar’s successful SPAC merger, it became quickly apparent to me that Jim Graf and Michael Dee – joint founders of the SPAC – wanted to curtail my involvement in the quality and selection of products being developed, the contracts negotiated and integrity of the Company’s business moving forward. These actions, in my view, emboldened Chief Executive Officer Anand Gopalan to disregard my views.
I firmly believe that the Board has fostered an anti-stockholder culture and that Velodyne Lidar’s corporate governance is broken. Perhaps most unsettling was the Board’s decision to rubberstamp an increased compensation package for Mr. Gopalan despite the Company releasing weak Q4 2020 earnings and missing year end forecasts.
The Board also recently attempted to manipulate the Company’s corporate machinery by transitioning Christopher Thomas from a Class I director to a Class II director in an apparent move to avoid having him stand for re-election against my nomination of Eric Singer, a highly-qualified director candidate with significant public board experience.
As a whole, I believe the status quo in Velodyne Lidar’s boardroom is unacceptable. The Board lacks prior public company experience, seems to prioritize its own self-interests over stockholders and has overseen the destruction of significant stockholder value.
It was in light of these serious concerns – as well as the Board’s complete disregard for my decades of experience and input – that made me come to the difficult decision of submitting my resignation last week.
Unfortunately, the Board as currently constituted appears to have no respect for the principles, values and culture that I spent years building at Velodyne Lidar. My wife, Marta Hall, will remain on the Board and continue to perform her fiduciary duties to best serve all Velodyne Lidar stockholders.
Founder of Velodyne Lidar, Inc.
This approach has many challenges, namely the ability to read and understand objects like speed signs, or traffic lights, for that you need cameras and machine learning.
Company’s like Tesla approach autonomy with in a very different way, opting to investing in innovating in AI and determining depth from a serious of images over a span of time, and deducing how far that object moved. The system recognises and understand the world around it, much like humans do.
Not only can the system read and respond to things like speed zones and traffic lights, but it also recognises different objects in the scene and predicts their future movements, to enable the car to do path planning safely through the environment. Tesla does use forward-facing radar and ultrasonic sensors, in combination with the camera around the car to form the view of the world around it.
Elon Musk famously said that Lidar is expensive and unnecessary. Tesla’s FSD Beta shows the approach is working, with the car now able to turn corners, take roundabouts and navigate unmarked city streets.