Luminar is one of the major players in the new crop of lidar companies that have sprung up all over the world, and it’s moving fast to outpace its peers. Today the company announced a new $100M funding round, bringing its total raised to over $250M — as well as a perception platform and a new, compact lidar unit aimed at inclusion in actual cars. Big day!
The new hardware, called Iris, looks to be about a third of the size of the test unit Luminar has been sticking on vehicles thus far. That one was about the size of a couple hardbacks stacked up, and Iris is more like a really thick sandwich.
Size is very important, of course, since few cars just have caverns of unused space hidden away in prime surfaces like the corners and windshield area. Other lidar makers have lowered the profiles of their hardware in various ways; Luminar seems to have compactified in a fairly straightforward fashion, getting everything into a package smaller in every dimension.
Photos of Iris put it in various positions: below the headlights on one car, attached to the rear-view mirror in another, and high up atop the cabin on a semi truck. It’s small enough that it won’t have to displace other components too much, although of course competitors are aiming to make theirs even more easy to integrate. That won’t matter, Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell told me recently, if they can’t get it out of the lab.
“The development stage is a huge undertaking — to actually move it towards real-world adoption and into true
series production vehicles,” he said (among many other things). The company who gets there first will lead the industry, and naturally he plans to make Luminar that company.
Part of that is of course the production process, which has been vastly improved over the last couple years. These units can be made quickly enough that they can be supplied by the thousands rather than dozens, and the cost has dropped precipitously — by design.
Iris will cost under $1,000 per unit for production vehicles seeking serious autonomy, and for $500 you can get a more limited version for more limited purposes like driver assistance, or ADAS. Luminar says Iris is “slated to launch commercially on production vehicles beginning in 2022,” but that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re shipping to customers right now. The company is negotiating more than a billion dollars in contracts at present, a representative told me, and 2022 would be the earliest that vehicles with Iris could be made available.