Volvo Car Corp. is deepening its ties with Luminar, a fast-growing maker of a lidar, which is considered vital to a self-driving car’s ability to see the world around it.
The move comes a week after the automaker announced that autonomous vehicles would make up one-third of its deliveries by 2025.
Using its recently launched tech fund, Volvo will make a “significant” investment in Palo Alto, Calif.-based Luminar, r&d boss Henrik Green told Automotive News Europe.
“Lidar is key to achieving fully autonomous driving and Luminar has one of the most interesting technologies I have seen over the past year,” Green said, adding that Volvo is looking for a system that can cover a long distance and provide excellent resolution.
Luminar’s solution uses a 1550 nanometer wavelength that provides 50 times greater resolution and 10 times the range of the best rival lidars, CEO Austin Russell said in a phone interview with Automotive News Europe.
“Today’s systems can see a second ahead. We can see 7.5 seconds ahead or 250 meters (820 feet). That way you can operate at high speed,” Russell said.
Green said that lidar is crucial to making sure Volvo’s forthcoming autonomous cars can navigate safely, especially on the highway.
He added that while Volvo has not signed a commercial agreement to purchase Luminar’s system, it expects that by extending its collaboration with the U.S.-based startup it will gain expertise that will help it further the development of its autonomous cars.
Volvo plans to use it tech fund to create similar collaborations. “We are looking for a number of key partners with competitive technology,” Green said. “We will collaborate with more.”
5,000 units a quarter
In April Luminar, which was founded in 2012, said that it would scale production of its next-generation lidar sensing platform to 5,000 units a quarter by year-end.
Russell said that is enough to equip every autonomous test vehicle now in operation.
The system, which uses just one laser and one receiver to build a 120-degree field of vision, is made at Luminar’s U.S. factory in Orlando, Fla.
Competitors such as Velodyne use as many as 64 lasers to create a 360-degree view.
Prices for such systems can range from $4,000 to $85,000 a unit.
Russell said Luminar has agreements with four automakers. Two of them are Volvo and the Toyota Research Institute, the Japanese automaker’s r&d arm, but he declined to name the other two.
Russell said the collaboration with Volvo has worked well so far because the companies have a similar goal: “The whole reason we built this was to have safer autonomous cars, going form seeing some things some of the time to seeing all things all of the time.”