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Luminar Technologies Reaches Deal to Supply LiDAR Sensors & Software to Chinese Automaker SAIC

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【Summary】California lidar startup Luminar Technologies Inc. has announced a strategic partnership with Chinese automaker SAIC Motor Corporation Limited (SAIC) to supply lidar sensors for the automaker’s production vehicles. As part of the partnership, SAIC will integrate Luminar’s Iris lidar sensor in its new R brand vehicles for series production. In addition to lidar, Luminar will supply its Sentinel software to support autonomous highway driving.

FutureCar Staff    Mar 18, 2021 11:40 AM PT
Luminar Technologies Reaches Deal to Supply LiDAR Sensors & Software to Chinese Automaker SAIC
Luminar's lidar will be installed in SAIC vehicles during production to support automated highway driving and safety systems.

California lidar company Luminar Technologies, Inc. has announced a strategic partnership with Chinese automaker SAIC Motor Corporation Limited (SAIC) to supply lidar sensors for the automaker's production vehicles. SAIC is one of China's biggest automakers and aims to become the fifth largest carmaker in the world over the next five years.

As part of the partnership, SAIC will integrate Luminar's Iris lidar sensor in its new R brand vehicles for series production. In addition to the lidar sensor, Luminar will supply its Sentinel software system to the automaker. 

Luminar's lidar and companion Sentinel software will support autonomous highway driving and advanced driver assist system (ADAS) safety features for SAIC's R brand vehicles.

The Luminar's lidar will be seamlessly integrated into the vehicle's roof during production.

The first SAIC R brand vehicles equipped with Luminar's lidar are expected to enter series production in 2022. Eventually Luminar's lidar will be added to other vehicles produced by SAIC, the companies said.

"Our new R brand line of vehicles will combine the best technology with luxury and comfort, and autonomous capabilities are central to that vision," said Yang Xiaodong, Vice President of SAIC Motor Corporation Limited. "The only autonomous vehicle company we seriously considered was Luminar—they are in a league of their own in lidar technology and software, uniquely enabling us to achieve our vision in series production."

To future support the ongoing partnership, Luminar will establish an office in China and work alongside SAIC on future integrations of its lidar technology. 

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Lidar acts as the "eyes" of a self-driving vehicle detecting objects in the surrounding environment. (Photo: Luminar Technologies Inc.)

Why is Lidar So Important to Automakers?

The term "lidar" is an acronym for "light detection and ranging." The laser technology works by sending out pulses of laser light and measuring the light time it takes to reflect back off objects. The reflected light is used to create a 3D rendering of the environment around a vehicle, including identifying pedestrians, other vehicles and infrastructure.

The 3D images produced by lidar act as an extra set of eyes for a self-driving vehicle. The technology is often combined with cameras, radar and perception software. Lidar is also used to support new vehicle safety features, such as automotive emergency braking (AEB) and automated cruise control, which are offered in many new vehicles today. 

As ADAS safety features become standard on many new vehicles, there is a growing demand for lidar technology in the auto industry that can support the level-2 and higher autonomous driving features. 

The world's automakers are turning to tech companies and startups like Luminar to supply low-cost automotive-grade lidar sensors and other technology that can be installed in a vehicle during production to support autonomous driving.

Luminar says it created the only lidar sensor that meets the stringent performance, safety and cost requirements for SAE Level 3 to 5 autonomous vehicles, which are higher levels of automated driving that require little to no human intervention.

The company claims its advanced lidar is better than its rivals, offering much higher detail and a longer range up to 250 meters. Many lidar sensors produced by other companies can only see about half that distance. 

The partnership is expected to deliver the first autonomous production vehicles in China.

"SAIC has grown to establish itself as the largest automaker in the world's largest automotive market, and has no intent of slowing down when it comes to electric and autonomous vehicles." said Austin Russell, Founder and CEO of Luminar. "Instead, they are clearly leading the charge to set a new technology standard for both China and the industry at large. Luminar's hardware and software is uniquely able to make SAIC's vision a reality at series production scale."

Luminar engineers will work closely with SAIC Motor engineers to integrate hardware and software technology into its vehicles and fully optimize their performance and capabilities, which will also incorporate over-the-air updates to expand the operating domain of autonomy and further improve safety of vehicles over time.

The partnership with SAIC is the second major announcement from Luminar this month. Earlier in March, Luminar announced a deal with Zenseact, the self-driving software subsidiary of Volvo Cars, to develop a full stack, autonomous driving hardware and software system that can be sold to other automakers. 

Zenseact is contributing its radar and computer vision expertise to the partnership. Luminar will combine Zenseact's technology with its own hardware and software.

Luminar also struck a deal with Daimler Truck AG and Intel's Mobileye after receiving a minority investment from Dailmer's truck division.

Luminar's partnership with SAIC is the latest example of an automaker partnering with a tech company to supply the hardware or software to support advanced features, such as autonomous driving.

Luminar was founded in 2012 in Silicon Valley. The company has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., Orlando, Colorado Springs, Detroit, and Munich. 

Luminar became a publicly traded company in Dec 2020 after it merged with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Gores Metropoulos, Inc. 

The company's shares trade on the NASDAQ under the symbol "LAZR."

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