Most new cars sold today include a bevy of sensors such as cameras and radar to help power modern conveniences like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. Very few automakers, however, sell cars with the high-powered laser sensor known as LIDAR, and for good reason: most LIDAR are ridiculously expensive, with the leading suppliers pricing theirs at around $75,000. But now, Volvo says it has found a LIDAR maker that can produce the sensors cheap enough to justify installing them on its consumer vehicles — which it says will allow these cars to drive themselves
“Sometimes we see a lot of companies trying to push out a press release about some partnership when it’s really like they sold one sensor that one time on to a test vehicle,” Russell told The Verge. “This here is a lot more substantial.”
In addition to Volvo and Toyota, Russell said that Luminar is working with two other automotive partners, but saving those names for a later date.
Luminar also has a new product on the market: 3D perception software to help label and annotate all the images captured by its lidar sensors. Russell said that a lot of self-driving operators are applying two-dimensional perception tools, data annotation and labeling software, and algorithms on what is “true 3D data.” Luminar’s new development platform will enable Volvo’s self-driving cars to process the data captured by the company’s high-powered lidar in a more advanced environment.
Volvo is certainly an interesting choice for Luminar, which is trying to position itself as a major player alongside lidar suppliers like Velodyne and Quanergy. Unlike some other OEMs, Volvo has been more closely guarded with its self-driving tests. The Chinese-owned automaker says it hopes to start production on its self-driving cars by 2021, working as part of a joint venture with safety-system supplier Autoliv and communications company Ericsson.
“You can easily see them as being one of the first to get real [self-driving] cars on the road at the end of the day,” Russell said of Volvo.
The announcement of the partnership with Luminar is significant because Volvo is focused on developing software for its self-driving cars while Autoliv is doing the hardware and Ericsson is providing connectivity features. The sale of Luminar’s development platform will likely boost that effort. Zenuity, the name of the Volvo-Autoliv-Ericsson venture, has also announced that it plans to use Nvidia compute platforms for its system.