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Lidar Startup Luminar Raises $100 Million in Latest Funding Round, Is Working with 12 of the World's Largest Automotive Companies

Lidar Startup Luminar Raises $100 Million in Latest Funding Round, Is Working with 12 of the World's Largest Automotive Companies

Author: Eric Walz   

Lidar startup Luminar Technologies announced a new $100 million investment and unveiled its new lidar platform called "Iris" for the automotive and commercial truck markets. Iris is a automotive grade low cost lidar solution designed specifically for high-volume production.

The latest funding brings the company's total raised to date to more than $250 million, making Luminar one of the most well-funded lidar startups.

Major financial investors include G2VP, two of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds, Moore Strategic Ventures LLC, The Westly Group, 1517 Fund / Peter Thiel and Canvas Ventures, along with strategic investors Corning Incorporated, Cornes and the Volvo Cars Tech Fund. 

"We've been following the LiDAR industry closely for the last 5 years, watching for a technology leader to emerge that can enable Level 4 autonomy," said Ben Kortlang, Founding Partner at G2VP. "With the release of Iris, Luminar uniquely offers a LiDAR solution that meets the performance, safety and cost metrics that OEMs require to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Luminar's product is the enabling technology that will put autonomous vehicles on the road sooner than we expected."

As advanced driver assist systems (ADAS)  become standard on many new vehicle models, there is a growing demand for lidar technology from automakers looking to integrate the technology at scale for level-2 and higher autonomous driving systems.

Lidar is considered an essential sensor for self-driving cars. It bounces laser beams off objects to provide a 3D representation of a vehicle's surroundings. When combined with other sensors including cameras and radar, lidar acts as the ‘eyes' of an autonomous car when combined with radar and computer vision, detecting objects on the road ahead including people, animals and other vehicles.

However, lidar technology is not just for self-driving vehicles. It is an important sensor for the latest driver assist systems, which include safety features such as adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection and automatic braking systems. Luminar's Iris can detect dark objects like a black car in the road up to 250 meters away. The lidar is also small enough to be integrated in a vehicle's front bumper, grill or fender during production.

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A single frame showing the high resolution of Luminar's lidar technology (Photo: Luminar).

One of the challenges for automakers is to find a lower cost lidar solution that is both automotive grade and scalable. Luminar's Iris platform is designed for seamless integration into vehicles with a price target of less that $1,000 in volume. Additionally, it features lower priced configurations to support safer ADAS and level-2 autonomy at a $500 pricing target.

Luminar is emerging as a leader competing against other lidar startups, Velodyne, AEye, Blackmore, Innoviz and others. The company said it is working with 12 of the world's top 15 automotive companies as part of global their self-driving development programs. Luminar was issued over 40 patents for lidar combined with its breakthrough 3D data offering camera-like high resolution and the longer range of radar.

The original bulky rotating lidar senors first used by Google's first self-driving vehicles cost upwards of $75,000 each and were supplied by Velodyne, one of the biggest players in the lidar market for the past decade. However, advancements in lidar technology and manufacturing have brought the price down considerably and Luminar is looking capture some of Velodyne's market share.

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Luminar's Iris lidar is small enough to fit inside a vehicle's front grill.

Luminar's founder and CEO Austin Russell is just 24 years old and is a wunderkind in Silicon Valley. He founded the lidar company in 2012, with a vision to develop a new type of lower cost LiDAR for the autonomous vehicle industry. He briefly attended Stanford University in the applied physics department, but left to accept a coveted Thiel Fellowship to work on the development of a solid-state lidar for autonomous driving.

"We're at a stage where everyone in the industry is hacking together Frankenstein solutions with off-the-shelf parts for their R&D programs, but to successfully achieve series production autonomy, hardware and software have to be seamlessly developed and integrated in tandem," said Russell. "This combined, turnkey solution for series production vehicles is key to democratizing autonomy in the industry, enabling every automaker to deliver on the promise of self-driving capabilities on their vehicles."

Lunminar's software team is led by Christoph Schroder, an early innovator in self-driving cars since 2006. Schroder joined Luminar from Daimler where he led the development of the self-driving software stack and overall autonomous robo-taxi program. 

Luminar is working with two strategic supply chain partners Cornes and Corning on mass production of its lidar. Cornes has more than 150 years of business and supply chain experience in Japan and is supporting Luminar's global expansion into Asia. 

Corning is one of the world's leading innovators in materials science for industrial and scientific applications. The company best known for developing "Gorilla Glass", which was chosen by late Apple CEO Steve Jobs for the touchscreen of the iPhone. Luminar is working with Corning on LiDAR windows and other optical components.

Luminar has offices in Silicon Valley, Orlando, Florida and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The company is working with Volvo Cars, Toyota Research Institute, and Audi's subsidiary, Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), as well as other unnamed companies.

Iris is slated to launch commercially on production vehicles beginning in 2022.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree 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 auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber 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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