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Luminar & Volvo Share Details of Advanced LiDAR for Autonomous Driving at Automobility LA

Luminar & Volvo Share Details of Advanced LiDAR for Autonomous Driving at Automobility LA

Author: Eric Walz   

Today at the kickoff of AutoMobility LA in Los Angeles, Austin Russell, the founder of lidar startup Luminar and Henrik Green, VP of Research and Development at Volvo Cars, revealed advancements in lidar perception capabilities that are accelerating the development of Volvo's R&D efforts. Together the companies are working towards a shared vision of safe, fully autonomous driving using lidar technology provided by Luminar.

Volvo is the first of Luminar's partners to fully develop this capability, which Russell and Green demonstrated on stage. The Luminar team has worked closely with Volvo Cars R&D to create advanced perception technologies. Lidar acts as the "eyes" of a self-driving vehicle, enabling a 3D view of the surrounding environment.

In June, the companies first announced their partnership, which included a significant investment in Luminar from the recently established Volvo Cars Tech Fund. Since then, Volvo Cars has introduced its vision for full autonomy with its 360c concept vehicle.

The demonstration this morning in Los Angeles gave the first look into long-range lidar perception capabilities on a live drive along busy Los Angeles freeways and streets to show off Volvo's long-range vision at highway speeds using Luminar's lidar-based sensing platform.

"The Volvo Cars R&D team is moving at an impressive pace to solve some of the most advanced problems in the development of autonomous driving," said Luminar founder and chief executive officer, Austin Russell. "As we've scaled up, they've remained on the forefront of developing an autonomous system to take the driver out of the loop - ultimately enabling deployment in real consumer vehicles."

Long-range perception is key to achieving Volvo Cars' vision for its upcoming 360c. Volvo said that Luminar's high performance lidar finally delivers the range, resolution, and fidelity the automaker requires to achieve safer-than-human understanding of a vehicle's surroundings.

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Volvo's 360 Concept Vehicle

Lidar, which is short for "light detection and ranging", bounces laser beams off objects to provide a 3D representation of a vehicle's surroundings. The technology is considered an essential sensor for self-driving cars. Luminar says its advanced lidar is better than its rivals, offering higher detail and a longer range.

Luminar's lidar has a range of 250 meters Russell said. Typical lidar technologies can only see about half that. This longer range means Volvo's future autonomous vehicles will have more time to react safely, even at highway speeds.

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Luminar's lidar shows cars on the road ahead which are labeled with blue boxes using computer vision software

The high resolution offered by Luminar's lidar technology enabled the Volvo Cars R&D team to achieve and demonstrate the first ever LiDAR-based pose estimation for autonomous driving. Pose estimation is used to understand and predict pedestrian body language, behavior and intention, but has traditionally only been achieved with 2D data from cameras.

The pose estimation can is used to determine what a pedestrian might do based on their body position, such as crossing the street. The lidar can show what direction a person is facing, and can even detect subtle details, such as a person's limp.

With LiDAR that achieves camera-like resolution in 3D, this is one of many perception & prediction challenges that can now be reliably solved.

"Autonomous technology will take driving safely to a new level, beyond human limitations. This promise to improve safety is why Volvo Cars wants to be a leader in autonomous drive. Ultimately, the technology will also create new benefits for our customers and society as a whole," said Green. "Luminar shares our ambition in making those benefits a reality and this new perception technology is an important next step in that process."

Green said Volvo plans to have a fully autonomous vehicle using Luminar's advanced lidar technology available sometime after 2021.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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