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Luminar partners with Chinese SAIC Motors to supply the EV maker with laser lidar sensors

Silicon Valley startup, Luminar, has won a contract to supply high-tech laser sensors and software to SAIC Motors, an electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer based in Shanghai, China. These lasers will be used in the Asian firm’s battery-powered R brand vehicles set to hit the road in 2022. The EVs will be self-driving, and the laser technology will come in handy to detect obstacles ahead.

The California startup, founded by the 26-year old billionaire, Austin Russell, will open an office in China to support this project. The Iris lidar will be installed in the autonomous cars alongside the Sentinel software for a flawless self-driving experience and automated safety capabilities. Luminar says this collaboration will be the first self-driven car production in China. “This is really our foray into China-and it won’t be the last. From a commercial standpoint, this is definitely the most significant event we’ve had in a year since Volvo,” said Russell.

Luminar has worked with big names in the auto sector since its establishment. In May 2020, the firm strike a deal with Volvo to supply sensors and software for automated passenger vehicles. Besides, Daimler Truck AG tagged the startup in its truck production to realize automated trucking and acquired a minority stake in the firm. The global leader in automotive lidar hardware and software gained significant returns in 2020 thanks to the sale of lidar sensors to automotive test fleets that earned approximately $ 14 million. According to its quarterly results report as a public company this year, Luminar was valued at $1.3 billion without the SAIC contract.

Lidar technology can be used during the day and night to enable an autonomous vehicle to detect obstacles in a 3-D view. Luminar uses a single laser beam technology. Unlike the multiple laser technology used by laser tech pioneer Velodyne, Luminar’s technology requires little energy to operate.

The lidar technology is a primary component of the autonomous car’s hardware, working together with cameras, radar, and servers. According to Luminar, the Iris lidar detects objects 250 meters ahead of a vehicle traveling at highway speed. This technology costs between $500 and $1,000.

SAIC Motors looks forward to this collaboration, saying it will enable them to realize their self-driving car goals. “Our new R brand line of vehicles will combine the best technology with luxury and comfort, and autonomous capabilities are central to that vision. The only autonomous vehicle company we seriously considered was Luminar,” said Yang Xiaodong, SAIC Motor vice president.

“They are in a league of their own in lidar technology and software, uniquely enabling us to achieve our vision in series production,” he added. Russell noted this deal would have a meaningful impact on Luminar’s returns. According to Forbes, the self-made billionaire, who founded the firm in 2012, is worth $2.8 billion.

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