Luminar to Revolutionize Automotive Industry with $36 Million Seed Funding

Posted Apr 18, 2017 by

Luminar Technologies is all set to revolutionize the automotive industry from its sensors, emerging from “stealth mode” boasting $36 million of seed financing and a 50,000 square-foot production facility in Orlando.

Last year two of the lidar scene’s major players - Quanergy Systems and Velodyne - raised a combined $240 million, and both are now in the process of ramping their solid-state sensor production to volume levels at dedicated manufacturing sites.

For its part Luminar is making some bold claims in terms of sensor performance and - in particular - range, one of the key challenges that faces all lidar developers. According to Luminar, their Lidar technology has the ability to see 50 times greater resolution and 10 times longer range than current systems although it has not provided independent validation detail - other than to say that unspecified customers have run their own tests. This means that at 200 meters, Luminar can detect hard-to-see, low-reflectivity objects like a black car or tire on the road, and offer a full seven seconds of reaction time at 75 miles per hour.

In terms of manufacturing plans, Luminar adds that it is in the middle of a production run with four major autonomous vehicle programs, for early-stage testing. A 10,000 unit will begin out running of its new 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Orlando, with deliveries scheduled for later this year. The firm's high-performance approach to lidar technology is based around 1550 nm lasers – a longer wavelength than is typical for lidar, and one more usually associated with long-haul optical communications – and the InGaAs sensors needed to detect those photons.

The choice of wavelength will likely raise some eyebrows in terms of its implications for overall system cost, but Luminar says that it has made “a number of breakthroughs” to reduce the expense - although technical details are scant. Traditionally, 1550 nm systems have been far too expensive to produce at scale, with the receiver alone costing thousands of dollars just for the raw material. In order to circumvent that challenge, Luminar designed its system from the chip-level up rather than buying components off the shelf, building its own lasers and receivers to make 1550 nm work while being cost-effective. The company's take is that so far the lidar sector has been engaged in a race to the bottom in terms of price, which has negatively impacted quality.

Aside from the technology claims, Luminar says that it already employs 150 people, and has attracted $ 36 mllion in seed capital from investors Canvas Ventures, GVA Capital, and 1517 Fund, among others. Two acquisitions - one of a contract manufacturing company and the second of Eichenholz's earlier Open Photonics technology development company - have swelled the employee ranks.

Among the dozens of protagonists targeting the same market as Luminar, Quanergy and Velodyne are California-based TetraVue, Israel’s Oryx Vision and Innoviz Technologies, and LeddarTech in Canada. On top of that competition, Google-owned Waymo and Uber subsidiary Otto are currently engaged in a courtroom battle over each other's home-grown lidar technology, with Waymo alleging multiple patent infringement.