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California Lidar Developer Luminar & Volvo Partner on a Full Stack Autonomous Driving System

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【Summary】​Silicon Valley-based lidar developer Luminar Technologies said it had struck a deal with the self-driving software subsidiary of Volvo Cars to offer a full stack, autonomous driving hardware and software system that can be sold to other automakers.

Eric Walz    Mar 11, 2021 3:25 PM PT
California Lidar Developer Luminar & Volvo Partner on a Full Stack Autonomous Driving System

Lidar developer Luminar Technologies said it had struck a deal with the self-driving software subsidiary of Volvo Cars to offer a full stack, autonomous driving hardware and software system that can be sold to other automakers.

Under the deal announced on Thursday, Volvo subsidiary Zenseact will supply its radar and computer vision expertise to the partnership. Luminar will combine Zenseact's technology and pair it with its own hardware and software and bundle it into a complete autonomous driving system called the Sentinel Autonomous Driving System (ADS). 

Zenseact is a new self-driving software unit of Volvo created in Oct 2020 after the automaker dissolved a previous software joint venture with Veoneer. The 550-person software subsidiary is owned by Volvo Cars and is tasked with developing autonomous driving technology for both Volvo and the larger automotive industry.

"Zenseact has greater experience in advanced ADAS and autonomous software for production vehicles than anyone I've seen in the industry, having decades of experience delivering to Volvo Cars and nearly a dozen other production programs," said Austin Russell, Founder and CEO of Luminar.

Zenseact focuses on a self-driving decision-making software system called OnePilot that, in combination with Luminar's sensors, will support autonomous features for Volvo's future vehicles as a full stack system.

"For Luminar, this is key in our transformation from a lidar provider to a software and systems company, enabling autonomy and improved vehicle safety to become ubiquitous" said Russell.

In addition to Luminar's lidar, the Sentinel Autonomous Driving System (ADS) will use a processor supplied by Nvidia, as well as cameras and radar. Russell told Reuters that the full stack system can be made to work with the cameras and radars already installed on the vehicle.

"You have to have the full-stack solution to actually make all of it work," he said. "You can have 10 different OEMs testing your stuff, but it is never going to make it into production if you don't have the software side of it," Russell said.

The Sentinel ADS will debut in production in 2022 on the next-generation Volvo XC90 before being introduced on other models, included for rival automakers, Luminar CEO Austin Russell told Reuters.

At first, the Sentinel system will provide what Luminar calls "proactive safety," an enhanced version of Volvo's existing safety systems such as features like automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control (ACC). Future versions of Sentinel will support autonomous driving, but only on highways at speeds up to 70 mph, with further capabilities being added later.

Volvo was an early backer of Luminar through its venture capital arm Volvo Tech Fund. The fund was announced in Feb 2018 to invest in high potential technology start-ups in Silicon Valley and around the globe. 

The goal of the fund is to invest in strategic technology trends and startups that are transforming the automotive industry. The Volvo Tech Fund's fund's first ever investment was Luminar in June 2018.

Luminar was already chosen as Volvo's lidar supplier in a deal announced last year in which Volvo will use Luminar's advanced lidar sensors in its production vehicles. Production of the Volvo models equipped with Luminar's lidar will begin next year.

Autonomous driving startup Aurora is working on a similar autonomous driving system. Aurora is developing a complete suite of self-driving software and hardware that is similar to Sentinel which can be sold to other automakers or added to a production vehicle platform. 

The full stack platform is called the "Aurora Driver" and includes a standard set of autonomous driving hardware and software. Aurora is is working with Toyota on an autonomous driving system. 

Aurora purchased Uber's Advanced Technologies Group (UBER ATG) from the ride-hailing company for $4 billion in December. UBER ATG was originally tasked with developing autonomous driving technology for Uber, but the company decided to sell the money losing unit and take an equity stake in Aurora instead.

Luminar recently finalized its business combination with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Gores Metropoulos, Inc. in Dec 2020 to become a publicly traded company

Luminar's shares began trading on the NASDAQ in December under the symbol "LAZR." The stock is up over 25% since Monday and is currently trading at $26.29.


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