COVID-19 has helped clarify that picture. A year ago, Jellicoe says, many automakers and suppliers were enamored with various lidar solutions, often tinkering with numerous sensor configurations on vehicles and rewriting specifications for their lidar suppliers. The pandemic has compelled automakers and Tier 1s to essentially etch their plans in stone.
"We have noticed a real acceleration," Jellicoe said. "They are cutting away the lightweight ambitions and laser-focused on what's important to them."
Along those lines, Ouster's sales grew 350 percent year over year in 2020, Pacala said. He agrees with the notion that companies that have already manufactured lidar as part of production contracts will remain viable while competitors without that experience will falter.
"That's an extremely good metric," he said.
But compared with Innoviz, Ouster has taken a different approach to business development. Pacala is reluctant to marry the company to any particular customer and potentially narrow its market.
Ouster has more than 800 customers across multiple industries, per financial documents. It sells lidar for driver-assist systems at $600 per unit. But automotive is just 30 percent of Ouster's customer base. The company has gained traction in other applications, such as trucking, mining and defense. Beyond that, Ouster may supply lidar for everything from e-bikes to aerial vehicles. In Pacala's view, the real opportunity is not limited to one particular sector, but the chance to redefine transportation writ large.
"I'm a car nut," Pacala said, "but the opportunity is much bigger than automotive. Ouster's goal is to put a lidar sensor on every moving object on Earth."