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Lidar-Maker Luminar Gets Backing from Volvo

Luminar is also developing more sophisticated lidar systems.

Luminar, one of the top companies developing lidar sensors for self-driving cars, has a new ally. Volvo will invest in the company, and Luminar will help develop sensor technology for the Swedish automaker’s in-house self-driving car program.

Lidar is similar in principal to radar, but bounces light instead of radio waves off nearby objects to determine their distance. Along with radar and cameras, lidar is generally considered to be one of the three essential sensor types needed to make self-driving cars work. Luminar is one of the largest lidar manufacturers. The company recently opened a Florida factory it claims can churn out 5,000 units per quarter.

Volvo did not say how much it will investment in Luminar, but said the investment will be carried out through its Volvo Cars Tech Fund. Launched earlier this year, the fund was developed specifically for investments in tech startups, focusing on areas like artificial intelligence, electrification, autonomous driving, and digital services.

Alongside the Volvo partnership, Luminar announced a significant expansion in scope. The company wants to go from merely making sensors to making the perception systems that allow self-driving cars to interpret the data from sensors. It’s similar to how Intel-owned Mobileye provides image-recognition software along with its cameras. Over the past year, Luminar said it has developed “data infrastructure, labelling, and annotation tools” to process data gleaned from its lidar sensors.

Luminar claims to have four automaker partners. In September 2017, the Toyota Research Institute announced that it would use Luminar sensors in its prototype autonomous cars. The other two partners haven’t publicly announced their collaborations with Luminar.