Lidar Sensors Developed by Luminar Could Serve As “Eyes” of Self-Driving Cars

Orlando, Florida-based startup Luminar is making lidar sensors that will serve as the “eyes” of self-driving cars. The sensors will cost several hundred dollars apiece, while most Lidar sensors cost tens of thousands of dollars each, which could significantly decrease the cost of self-driving cars.

Lidar sensors emit pulses of light that human eyes can’t see and measure how long the light takes to bounce back after hitting an object. The data obtained creates a point cloud, which is like a 3D map that shows a car where obstacles are in their environment. Luminar uses indium gallium arsenide instead of silicon as a substrate and a different frequency of light than standard Lidar sensors. In doing so, the company claims to provide 50 times better resolution and “see” a range that is more than 10 times longer than other Lidars. To further reduce costs and keep and production speed high, Luminar has also created a way to build its sensors using just the slightest amount of indium gallium arsenide.

“People talk as if autonomous vehicles are already safer than human drivers. But we’re nowhere close to autonomous yet. In order to move past this phase and avoid more tragedies like the Uber accident, test fleets are very hungry to adopt new, advanced sensing platforms like ours,” said Luminar CEO, Austin Russell.

Toyota Research Institute’s senior vice president of automated driving, Ryan Eustice, has been involved in testing Luminar’s technology.

“Where this Lidar looks is reconfigurable,” Eustice stated. “If you want to know if that’s a pedestrian or a car way in the distance? You can go get more data points from that particular region to become more confident in your data. It’s sort of like zooming in. And you can’t do that with other Lidars.”