A startup company called Luminar Technologies Inc. is coming up with a high-resolution LiDAR sensor for self-driving cars that took almost five years in the making. Austin Russell – the co-founder of the startup company – was only 17 years old, when he set out to develop a safer navigation system for the self-driving cars.
Luminar built its LiDAR systems from scratch
Luminar has built its LiDAR systems completely by itself. This means that the startup made its own chips, receivers, lasers, packaging and other important things instead of buying the components from outside, notes TechCrunch. The US-based company did not disclose the details about its work until now.
On Thursday, the company disclosed the first details about a product that its co-founder Russell is promoting as a more powerful form of “lidar.” Russell, who is also the CEO of the startup, said their LiDARs give vehicles the ability to see hindrances ahead in much greater detail, and at much greater distances than any other systems present in the market currently.
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“When you see your vehicle is powered by Luminar, you will know you will be safer. We need to get to the point where humans don’t have to constantly baby-sit and take control” of the self-driving cars, Russell said, according to WSB Radio. Russell says that the Luminar’s version consists of its own patented software and hardware that will provide 10 times the range and 50 times more resolution of current lidar systems.
LiDAR is a key sensing tech used in self-driving vehicles designed by Uber, Google and other major car making companies. The LiDAR systems work by bouncing lasers off the object present nearby, and analyzing the reflections to develop a detailed 3-D picture of the surrounding. It’s quite similar to radar that uses radio waves rather than lasers.
Cost – the main issue with self-driving tech
However, according to Alex Lidow, CEO of Efficient Power Conversion, the big problem for lidar systems these days is not the safety, but cost. The system could cost around thousands of dollars a piece, notes WSB Radio. (Efficient Power Conversion supplies chips for lidar.)
Russell has not disclosed about the cost of the LiDAR systems yet, but he did tell news site Engadget that they would make the LiDAR affordable long-term for all types of vehicles, from the Honda Fit to the Bentley. Currently, Velodyne’s less-expensive Puck costs around $8000, whereas the more powerful and high-end Velodyne HDL-64E costs about $75,000.
This year, Luminar is planning to produce 10,000 LiDAR units at a 50,000-square-foot plant in Orlando, Florida. Currently, the startup has raised over $36 million in seed-stage funding, and is expected to raise much more. The investors in the startup have included GVA Capital, the Peter Thiel-backed 1517 Fund and Canvas Ventures.
According to the company, it has been working with over 100 partners in the self-driving space, and these automakers will be receiving test units very soon. The startup company did not named any of the companies, but those partners will reportedly beta test the LiDAR system, and share their thoughts and data with Luminar.