Luminar Announces ‘Significant' Investment & Collaboration with Volvo on Lidar for Self-Driving Cars
In February, Volvo Cars announced its new Volvo Cars Tech Fund aimed at investing in high potential technology start-ups in Silicon Valley and around the globe. The goal of the fund is to invest in strategic technology trends and startups that are transforming the automotive industry.
Today, Volvo announced the fund's first investment—Luminar Technologies Inc., a company that developed an advanced lidar system for autonomous cars. With the partnership, Luminar is providing the core sensing technology to Volvo's autonomous vehicles.
The amount of the investment is ‘significant' however the exact amount was not disclosed.
"Luminar Technologies represents exactly the type of company and technology we seek to invest in, providing us with strategic access to new technologies, capabilities and talent," said Zaki Fasihuddin, CEO of the Volvo Cars Tech Fund. "Supporting promising young firms that are at the forefront of technological development will help us introduce cutting-edge technology that strengthens our leading role in the industry."
Lidar bounces laser beams off objects to provide a 3D representation of the world is considered an essential sensor for self-driving cars. Lidar acts as the ‘eyes' of an autonomous car, detecting objects on the road ahead. Luminar claims its advanced lidar is better than its rivals.
The company's lidar has a range of 200 meters at less than 10% reflectivity. Typical lidar technologies can only see 30-40 meters out at 10%. This longer range means an autonomous vehicle has more to react safely, even at highway speeds.
"LIDAR is a key technology for enabling autonomous cars to navigate safely in complex traffic environments and at higher speeds," said Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo Cars. "Our collaboration with Luminar allows us to learn more about its promising technologies and takes Volvo Cars one step further to the highly autonomous cars of the future."
Luminar's founder and CEO Austin Russell, is just 23 years old and is a wunderkind in Silicon Valley. He founded the company in 2012, with a vision to develop a new type of LiDAR for the autonomous vehicle industry. He briefly attended Stanford University in the applied physics department, but left to accept a coveted Thiel Fellowship.
Founded in 2011 by technology entrepreneur and tech investor Peter Thiel, the Thiel Fellowship is a two-year program for young people who want to build new things. Russell receive a $100,000 award from the foundation to focus full time on Luminar and accelerate its business, which is exactly what he has done.
Luminar CEO Austin Russell (left) and Jason Eichenholz Co-Founder & CTO
In addition to developing advanced lidar, Luminar has expanded into a perception development platform. Over the past year, Luminar created 3D LiDAR data infrastructure, labeling, and annotation tools to take full advantage of the new level of data quality produced by its sensors.
Data sharing and close collaboration with Volvo will be equally important for those developing their self-driving software on top of the Luminar data to quickly accelerate safe autonomy vehicle deployments. Volvo Cars is the first of Luminar's partners to fully leverage its expanded platform.
"Volvo is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development, and their safety-centric approach to autonomy is directly aligned with our sensing capabilities," said Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell. "Our LiDAR is the first to deliver the necessary performance to enable safe and reliable long-range perception, which is required to unlock their goals of autonomy at highway speeds."
Luminar is helping R&D efforts towards Volvo Cars' vision to make autonomous vehicles a commercial reality. Safe, highway speed commutes require better than human perception capabilities up to 250 meters into the distance in order to safely make crucial driving decisions.
Of Luminar's four major automotive OEM partners, Volvo Cars is the second to be publicly announced following Toyota Research Institute in September 2017.
To date, Luminar has raised $36 million in funding from Canvas Ventures, GVA Capital and 1517 Fund. the company has built a team of over 400 people across three offices, including Silicon Valley and a 125,000-square-foot manufacturing campus in Orlando, Florida.
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