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Luminar signs 'multi-billion dollar' deal with Mercedes-Benz

23 Feb 2023

Long-wavelength lidar set to feature in a broader range of production vehicles from the German automaking giant.

Automotive lidar manufacturer Luminar Technologies, whose sensor systems are built around 1550 nm lasers, has agreed a significant expansion of its existing partnership with automaker Mercedes-Benz.

The Stuttgart auto giant will now adopt Luminar’s “Iris” lidar across a wider range of production vehicles - in what the companies describe as a “multi-billion-dollar” deal.

“Luminar’s Iris entered its first series production in October 2022 and the company’s Mercedes-Benz program has successfully completed the initial phase and the associated milestones,” Luminar said.

“After two years of close collaboration between the two companies, Mercedes-Benz now plans to integrate the next generation of Luminar’s Iris lidar and its associated software technology across a broad range of its next-generation production vehicle lines by mid-decade.

“This multi-billion dollar deal is a milestone moment for the two companies and the industry, and is poised to substantially enhance the technical capabilities and safety of conditionally automated driving systems.”

According to a Reuters report, Luminar is planning to build a facility in Asia to support the new deal.

Photon budget
News of the sweeping expansion to Luminar’s Mercedes-Benz agreement, which sent the lidar firm’s stock price up nearly 30 per cent, comes just a few months after the Iris system made its production debut in cars from China’s SAIC Motor.

Long-term partner Volvo has also adopted the technology for its “EX90” electric SUV, while the Volvo subsidiary Polestar is offering Iris systems as an option in vehicles this year.

Luminar said that Mercedes-Benz would deploy the next-generation Iris technology for a new “conditionally automated” driving system that is planned to operate at higher speed for freeways, as well as for enhanced driver assistance systems for urban environments.

At the recent SPIE Photonics West event, Luminar’s CTO Jason Eichenholz stressed the advantages of using the 1550 nm wavelength for ensuring long-range object detection in all light conditions, meaning that the technology can operate in cars travelling at typical freeway speeds.

Most lidar units seen on existing self-driving vehicles operate at shorter wavelengths, but because of more relaxed eye safety regulations it is possible to deploy higher powers and a much greater “photon budget” at 1550 nm, Eichenholz explained.

Automated driving: 130 km/h targeted
Luminar CEO and founder Austin Russell said of the latest deal: “Mercedes’ standards for vehicle safety and performance are among the highest in the industry, and their decision to double down on Luminar reinforces that commitment.

“We are now set to enable the broadest scale deployment of this technology in the industry. It’s been an incredible sprint so far, and we are fully committed to making this happen - together with Mercedes-Benz.”

Markus Schäfer, CTO in Mercedes-Benz’ development and procurement unit, added: “In a first step we have introduced a Level 3 system in our top line models. Next, we want to implement advanced automated driving features in a broader scale within our portfolio.

“I am convinced that Luminar is a great partner to help realize our vision and roadmap for automated and accident-free driving.”

In a related announcement including a new long-term collaboration with Google to provide embedded mapping, Mercedes-Benz said that Luminar’s lidar sensors would feature within its new “MB.OS” operating system in certain vehicles.

Another key partner for MB.OS is NVIDIA, which is described as providing the “brain” for more automated driving.

“The company is focusing on Level 3 conditionally automated driving with the ultimate goal of driving at speeds of up to 130 km/h in its final iteration,” said the automaker, noting that NVIDIA’s “DRIVE Orin” system-on-chip is capable of conducting 254 trillion operations per second to process data from sensors surrounding the vehicle.

“The system’s ‘eyes’, also called perception systems, alongside radar sensors and cameras, are lidar sensors from Mercedes-Benz partner Luminar,” it added.

“Luminar’s next-generation IRIS sensor can recognize even small objects with low reflectivity in the infrared spectrum.”

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