Luminar is one of the major players in the new crop of lidar companies that have sprung up all over the world, and it’s moving fast to outpace its peers. Today the company announced a new $100 million funding round, bringing its total raised to more than $250 million — as well as a perception platform and a new, compact lidar unit aimed at inclusion in actual cars. Big day!
The new hardware, called Iris, looks to be about a third of the size of the test unit Luminar has been sticking on vehicles thus far. That one was about the size of a couple hardbacks stacked up, and Iris is more like a really thick sandwich.
Size is very important, of course, as few cars just have caverns of unused space hidden away in prime surfaces like the corners and windshield area. Other lidar makers have lowered the profiles of their hardware in various ways; Luminar seems to have compactified in a fairly straightforward fashion, getting everything into a package smaller in every dimension.
Photos of Iris put it in various positions: below the headlights on one car, attached to the rear-view mirror in another and high up atop the cabin on a semi truck. It’s small enough that it won’t have to displace other components too much, although of course competitors are aiming to make theirs even more easy to integrate. That won’t matter, Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell told me recently, if they can’t get it out of the lab.
“The development stage is a huge undertaking — to actually move it towards real-world adoption and into true series production vehicles,” he said (…Read More
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Our science and AI correspondent Devin Coldewey has a blockbuster look at the current state of affairs in the lidar industry. What started as those gyrating “spinners” on top of partially autonomous cars has evolved into a variety of mechanisms like metameterials, all the while VCs have dumped hundreds of millions of dollars on to new ventures.
The big challenge today though is to move from curios in the lab to production-ready hardware prepared for the open road. While some startups have netted early partnerships with car manufacturers like BMW, nothing is set in stone yet, even as a consolidation of the industry seems absolutely imminent.
There’s no shortage of lidar alternatives — as long as you don’t need something that’s ready to roll off the production line.
“Almost everything is in R&D, of which 95 percent is in the earlier stages of research, rather than actual development,” explained Austin Russell, founder and CEO of Luminar . “The development stage is a huge undertaking — to actually move it towards real-world adoption and into true series production vehicles. Whoever is able to enable true autonomy in production vehicles first is going to be the game changer for the industry. But that hasn’t happened yet.”
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“I’ve been approached at least four times in the last
As autonomous cars and robots loom over the landscapes of cities and jobs alike, the technologies that empower them are forming sub-industries of their own. One of those is lidar, which has become an indispensable tool to autonomy, spawning dozens of companies and attracting hundreds of millions in venture funding.
But like all industries built on top of fast-moving technologies, lidar and the sensing business is by definition built somewhat upon a foundation of shifting sands. New research appears weekly advancing the art, and no less frequently are new partnerships minted, as car manufacturers like Audi and BMW scramble to keep ahead of their peers in the emerging autonomy economy.
To compete in the lidar industry means not just to create and follow through on difficult research and engineering, but to be prepared to react with agility as the market shifts in response to trends, regulations, and disasters.
I talked with several CEOs and investors in the lidar space to find out how the industry is changing, how they plan to compete, and what the next few years have in store.
Their opinions and predictions sometimes synced up and at other times diverged completely. For some, the future lies manifestly in partnerships they have already established and hope to nurture, while others feel that it’s too early for automakers to commit, and they’re stringing startups along one non-exclusive contract at a time.
All agreed that the technology itself is obviously important, but not so important that investors will wait forever for engineers to get it out of the lab.
And while some felt a sensor company has no business building a full-stack autonomy solution, others suggested that’s the only way to attract customers navigating a strange new market.
It’s a flourishing market but one, they all agreed, that will experience …Read More