Luminar eyes production vehicles with $100M round and new Iris lidar platform

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 $100M funding round
, bringing its total raised
to over $250M — 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, since 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.

Luminar IRIS AND TEST FLEET LiDARS

Test model, left, Iris on the right.

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 (among
many other things
). The company who gets there first will lead
the industry, and naturally he plans to make Luminar that
company.

Part of that is of course the production process,
which has been vastly improved
over the last couple years.
These units can be made quickly enough that they can be supplied by
the thousands rather than dozens, and the cost has dropped
precipitously — by design.

Iris will cost under $1,000 per unit for production vehicles
seeking serious autonomy, and for $500 you can get a more limited
version for more limited purposes like driver assistance, or ADAS.
Luminar says Iris is “slated to launch commercially on production
vehicles beginning in 2022,” but that doesn’t mean necessarily
that they’re shipping to customers right now. The company is
negotiating more than a billion dollars in contracts at present, a
representative told me, and 2022 would be the earliest that
vehicles with Iris could be made available.

LUMINAR IRIS TRAFFIC JAM PILOT

The Iris units are about a foot below the center of the
headlight units here. Note that this is not a production vehicle,
just a test one.

Another part of integration is software. The signal from the
sensor has to go somewhere, and while some lidar companies have
indicated they plan to let the carmaker or whoever deal with it
their own way, others have opted to build up the tech stack and
create “perception” software on top of the lidar. Perception
software can be a range of things: something as simple as drawing
boxes around objects identified as people would count, as would a
much richer process that flags intentions, gaze directions,
characterizes motions and suspected next actions, and so on.

Luminar has opted to build into perception, or rather has
revealed that it has been working on it for some time. It now has
60 people on the task split between Palo Alto and Orlando, and
hired a new VP of Software, former robo-taxi head at Daimler
Christoph Schroder.

What exactly will be the nature and limitations of Luminar’s
perception stack? There are dangers waiting if you decide to take
it too far, since at some point you begin to compete with your
customers, carmakers who have their own perception and control
stacks that may or may not overlap with yours. The company gave
very few details as to what specifically would be covered by its
platform, but no doubt that will become clearer as the product
itself matures.

Last and certainly not least is the matter of the $100 million
in additional funding. This brings Luminar to a total of over a
quarter of a billion dollars in the last few years, matching its
competitor Innoviz, which has made similar decisions regarding
commercialization and development.

The list of investors has gotten quite long, so I’ll just
quote Luminar here:

G2VP, Moore Strategic Ventures, LLC, Nick Woodman, The Westly
Group, 1517 Fund / Peter Thiel, Canvas Ventures, along with
strategic investors Corning Inc, Cornes, and Volvo Cars Tech
Fund.

The board has also grown, with former Broadcom exec Scott
McGregor and G2VP’s Ben Kortland joining the table.

We may have already passed “peak lidar” as far as sheer
number of deals and startups in the space, but that doesn’t mean
things are going to cool down. If anything the opposite, as
established companies battle over lucrative partnerships and begin
eating one another to stay competitive. Seems like Luminar has no
plans on becoming a meal.

Source: FS – All Tech News 2
Luminar eyes production vehicles with 0M round and new Iris lidar platform