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LiDAR developer Luminar Technologies Hires Ex Apple, Tesla and Nvidia Execs as it Prepares for Growth

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【Summary】Lidar developer Luminar Technologies Inc (NASDAQ: LAZR) recently added ex Apple, Tesla and Nvidia engineers to round out its leadership team as its looks to expand in the auto industry. Among the new hires are CJ Moore, who served for seven years as director of Tesla’s Autopilot software.

FutureCar Staff    May 26, 2022 1:50 PM PT
LiDAR developer Luminar Technologies Hires Ex Apple, Tesla and Nvidia Execs as it Prepares for Growth
Lidar bounces laser beams off solid objects to render a 3D view of the environment around a vehicle. (Photo: Luminar)

Tech companies like Apple, Nvidia and Tesla in Silicon Valley often poach top talent from competitors, as the region has always been a highly competitive environment for companies to make a name for themselves.

The latest high-profile new hires by lidar hardware and software developer Luminar Technologies Inc (NASDAQ: LAZR) are an example of that. The company recently added ex Apple, Tesla and Nvidia engineers to round out its leadership team as its looks to expand in the auto industry.

Among the new top talent joining Luminar are Taner Ozcelik, the founder of Nvidia's growing automotive hardware business. Ozcelik will serve as Luminar's executive vice president and general manager to oversee lidar product development, R&D, program management, and Luminar's semiconductor subsidiaries. 

Over the past decade, Ozcelik scaled Nvidia's automotive business into a multi-hundred million dollar revenue business. Luminar also provides the long-range lidar for NVIDIA's DRIVE Hyperion autonomous vehicle platform that's also being used by Lucid Group for the Air sedan. 

Also joining Luminar is CJ Moore, who served for seven years as director of Tesla's Autopilot software before leaving the electric car company to join computer giant Apple Inc as director of autonomous systems for its secretive Apple Car project. Moore will lead Luminar's software program and contribute to its vision for next-generation safety and autonomy.

Luminar says that Moore brings an intense "build and ship" mentality and deep experience in embedded software and systems engineering to the startup.

Luminar alos hired Chris Lubeck as head of intellectual property. Lubeck joined Luminar to lead its IP efforts and strategy. Prior to Luminar, Lubeck served as the chief IP counsel at Tesla. 

Before joining Tesla Lubeck  served as counsel to Apple during the smartphone patent wars of the last decade. Luminar said that Lubeck leadership will enable the company to vigorously defend itself  against any intellectual property right disputes surrounding its lidar technology.

"With industry-defining technology and now nearly a dozen major commercial wins in hand, Luminar is ready for its next phase of leadership as we focus all-in on execution," said Luminar Founder and CEO, Austin Russell. "We're attracting the best leaders in the world in their fields to execute our vision and deliver on the future of transportation."

What is LiDAR and Why is it Important for Automakers?

The term "lidar" is an acronym for "light detection and ranging." The technology works by sending out pulses of invisible laser light and measuring the time it takes the light to reflect back off solid objects. 

The laser beams reflected back are used to create a 3D rendering of the environment around a vehicle, and can accurately identify pedestrians, vehicles, bicyclists, infrastructure and other hazards. More advanced lidar sensors can also determine if an object is moving towards or away from a vehicle. 

Luminar's lidar technology acts as an extra set of eyes on the road for advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving capabilities. Lidar sensors are usually paired with cameras, radar and other perception software. It's also a vital sensor to support new ADAS features such as automotive emergency braking (AEB) and automated cruise control, which are offered as standard in many new vehicles today. 

As automated or hands-free highway driving features are being made available on many new vehicles, there is a growing demand for lidar technology from companies like Luminar, including from top automakers like Mercedes Benz for its level-2 and higher autonomous driving systems. 

The world's automakers are turning more frequently to lidar developers like Luminar to supply low-cost automotive-grade lidar sensors at scale that can be installed in a vehicle during production. Luminar's lidar is further supported by software to improve its accuracy.

Luminar says it built its lidar from the chip-level up with breakthroughs across all core components. The company says its advanced lidar is much better than its rivals, offering higher resolution and detail at distances up to 250 meters away. Some lidar sensors from competitors can only identify objects about half that distance, according to Luminar.

This long range helps a vehicle's safety systems identify objects much faster, allowing the vehicle's software more time to react safely, even at highway speeds. 

Luminar's lidar can be paired with its customized software stack, providing automakers with an all-in-one autonomous driving solution that they can add to their vehicles during production.

In March 2021, Luminar announced it had struck a deal with Zenseact, which is 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.

As part of the deal, 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). 

In January, Luminar announced a partnership with automaker Mercedes Benz to supply lidar for its future Level-3 autonomous driving systems. The partnership with Luminar will help the automaker accelerate the development of its future automated driving technologies. 

In addition, Mercedes-Benz aims to ensure that its future vehicles with autonomous driving features will have the most up-to-date technologies. The automaker will enable Luminar to adopt a data driven development approach for continuous product improvement and over-the-air software updates.

With billions of dollars pouring into electric vehicle stocks and related technology for self-driving cars, more companies are turning to Wall Street to raise capital. Luminar launched its IPO in Dec 2020 after completing its business combination with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Gores Metropoulos, Inc.

Luminar high-profile new hires will help the company to accelerate its growth with commercial partners while further expanding its autonomous software and advanced driver assist system (ADAS) solutions for automakers.

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