Mercedes-Benz to Partner With Luminar on LiDAR for Autonomous Driving
Luxury car maker Mercedes Benz today announced its is partnering with lidar developer Luminar Inc to supply lidar for its future autonomous driving systems. The partnership with Mercedes Benz will help the automaker accelerate the development of future automated driving technologies.
Mercedes-Benz will leverage the lidar technology from Luminar with the aim to scale the technology and integrate it into series production vehicles.
Luminar will also help the automaker shorten development cycles and strengthen its technology partnerships. Mercedes-Benz seeks to ensure that its future vehicles with autonomous driving features will have the most up-to-date technologies. Mercedes-Benz will enable Luminar with a data driven development approach for continuous product improvement and updates.
Luminar built its lidar from the chip-level up with breakthroughs across all core components. The company says its advanced lidar is much better than its rivals, offering higher resolution and detail, as well as a longer range up to 250 meters. Many lidar sensors produced by other companies can only see about half that distance, according to Luminar.
This long range lidar can identify objects much further ahead and gives autonomous vehicle software more time to react safely, even at highway speeds. Luminar's lidar can also be paired with its customized software stack, providing automakers with an all-in-one autonomous driving solution that they can add to their vehicles during production.
"Luminar is the perfect addition to our existing roster of first-class cooperations with leading and cutting–edge tech companies. Mercedes-Benz's achievement of SAE Level 3 already marked a huge milestone for automated driving and I am absolutely convinced that partnerships will increase our level of ambition for what is possible in future. Cooperation is an essential part of Mercedes-Benz's strategy. Therefore, I am highly delighted to have Austin Russell and Luminar on board for our journey," said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, Chief Technology Officer responsible for Development and Procurement.
What is LiDAR and Why is it Important for Automakers?
The term "lidar" is an acronym for "light detection and ranging." The technology works by sending out pulses of laser light and measuring the time it takes to reflect back off objects. The laser beams reflected back are used to create a 3D rendering of the environment around a vehicle, and is used to identify pedestrians, vehicles, bicyclists, infrastructure and other hazards. Lidar sensors can also determine if an object is moving towards or away from a vehicle.
The 3D images produced by lidar sensors act as the "eyes'' of a self-driving vehicle. Lidar technology is often combined with cameras, radar and other perception software. It's also a vital sensor to support new safety features such as automotive emergency braking (AEB) and automated cruise control, which are offered as standard in many new vehicles today.
As automated or hands-free highway driving features are being made available on many new vehicles, there is a growing demand for lidar technology for automakers like Mercedes Benz for its level-2 and higher autonomous driving systems. The world's automakers are turning more frequently to lidar developers like Luminar and Velodyne to supply low-cost automotive-grade lidar sensors at scale that can be installed in a vehicle during production.
The 3D images produced by lidar sensors acts as the "eyes" of a self-driving vehicle, detecting objects in the surrounding environment. (Photo: Luminar)
Luminar says it created the only lidar sensor that meets the stringent performance, safety and cost requirements for Level 3 to 5 autonomous vehicles, which are levels of automated driving that require little to no human intervention.
In December, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to meet the demanding legal requirements of UN Regulation No. 157 for a SAE Level-3 automated lane keeping system that can operate without having a driver to pay attention to the road at all times.
The highly automated system allows the driver to focus on other activities, like reading a book or watching a movie, while the system is active in heavy traffic or on congested highways, Once in "Drive Pilot" mode, applications such as movie streaming or games, can be enabled on the vehicle's integrated central display, which is normally blocked while the vehicle is in motion.
Drive Pilot can take over the driving tasks at speed up to 60 km/h (37 mph). When the driver activates Drive Pilot using buttons on the steering wheel, the Level-3 system will automatically control the speed and distance between other vehicles, as well as keep the car centered in a lane. The system also reacts to unexpected traffic situations and handles them accordingly, such as emergency braking maneuvers.
Germany's approval means Mercedes-Benz can offer the new flagship S-Class sedan with Drive Pilot to customers in Germany in the first half of 2022.
In March 2021, Luminar announced a deal with the self-driving software subsidiary of Volvo Cars to offer a full stack, autonomous driving hardware and software system that can be sold to other automakers.
As part of the deal, Volvo subsidiary Zenseact will supply its radar and computer vision expertise and Luminar will combine Zenseact's technology and pair it with its own hardware and software and bundle it into a complete autonomous driving system called the "Sentinel Autonomous Driving System" (ADS).
Luminar is also working with Chinese automaker SAIC Motor Corporation Limited (SAIC).
In March 2021, Luminar announced a strategic partnership with SAIC to supply its lidar sensors for production vehicles. SAIC is one of China's biggest automakers and aims to become the fifth largest carmaker in the world over the next five years.
Luminar was founded in 2012 by Austin Russell when he was still a teenager. Russell, who serves as CEO, was known as a wunderkind in Silicon Valley circles and founded the company with a mission to develop a new type of high-resolution lidar for the auto industry and self-driving vehicles.
Russell briefly attended Stanford University but left the school to accept a coveted Thiel Fellowship. Thiel Fellowship was founded in 2011 by well known technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel. It's a two-year program for entrepreneurs that want to build innovative technology.
Russell left Stanford after he received a $100,000 award from the Thiel Foundation to focus full-time on his lidar company. Thiel was also an early investor in Luminar.
Luminar launched its IPO in Dec 2020 in a high profile SPAC deal with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos, Inc., becoming the second lidar developer to launch an IPO. Luminar's shares trade on the NASDAQ under the symbol "LAZR."
The Luminar IPO has made Russel one of the world's youngest billionaires and the youngest self-made billionaire in the world, according to Forbes. Luminar's high profile IPO followed the Wall Street debut of rival Silicon Valley lidar company Velodyne Lidar Inc. in Sept 2020.
In May of last year, Autonomous driving developer Pony.ai announced its newly designed perception platform in collaboration with Luminar. The next-generation fleet of self-driving Pony.ai vehicles will integrate Luminar's Iris lidar sensor.
Pony.ai is working on an autonomous robotaxi service in China and plans to deploy the automotive-grade lidar supplied by Luminar in its robotaxi vehicles by 2023.
In total, Luminar is working with around 50 partners, including the majority of global automotive OEMs and Daimler Truck AG for commercial trucks, and tech partners NVIDIA and Intel's computer vision unit Mobileye.
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