Luminar Introduces LiDAR Tech That May Help Make Autonomous Cars Safer
Every big-name automaker is working on autonomous cars. But it’s an unknown startup that is gaining attention for its unique sensor technology, which promises improved visibility compared to other systems.
Often considered a key component of autonomous vehicle systems, LiDAR sends out light pulses that are reflected off objects, helping the car gather a view of its environment. Luminar, a young California company, claims it has built a better mouse trap than other companies.
Luminar’s LiDAR system operates at 1,550nm wavelength, making it 40 times more powerful than legacy technologies, according to the company. Because it can see 50 times greater resolution and 10 times longer range, the technology can spot low-reflective, hard-to-see objects 200 meters away, giving a car 7 seconds to react to something when traveling at 75 mph. Today’s best systems, Luminar says, can see such objects less than 35 meters away or less than 1 second ahead at highway speeds.
“We had to find 2,000 ways not to make a LiDAR system, before we found the one way that finally delivers on what the industry needs,” said Austin Russell, founder and CEO of Luminar, in a release. “We made a breakthrough that will allow self-driving cars to be ubiquitous and, most importantly, safe.”
Over the course of five years, the team has quietly developed all major components of the new system from the chip-level up, including lasers, receivers, scanners, and processing electronics. The company was founded in 2012 and has since expanded to include more than 150 people. It has secured $36 million in seed capital from a variety of investors to help launch its product.
Luminar will deliver 10,000 units of its new LiDAR system starting later this year. Although the company’s offices are located in Portola Valley, Calif., Luminar will make the LiDAR units from its new 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Orlando, Fla. It is working with four autonomous vehicle partners for testing its technology.