Sunday November 27, 2022

Mercedes-Benz acquires stake in lidar maker Luminar, will use its sensors for future autonomous vehicles

Mercedes-Benz announced that it will integrate Luminar’s lidar sensors into future production cars to enable autonomous driving capabilities. The automaker also acquired an equity stake in the Orlando-based company, totaling 1.5 million shares. Mercedes-Benz will purchase approximately $20.2 million worth shares of Luminar at a price of $13.45 at the close of market on January 19th. This is less than 1% of the company.
Lidar, an important component of autonomous driving, is a laser-based sensor that uses near infrared light to detect shapes of objects. This allows autonomous vehicles to “see” other objects on a road, such as cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and all without the need for a GPS or network connection.
Mercedes-Benz claims it will integrate Luminar’s lidar sensor into its production vehicles. But, there are many things we don’t yet know. The automaker did not share a timeline for integrating Luminar’s lidar into its vehicles. It also declined to reveal which models would receive the laser sensor or what autonomous capabilities it would enable.
Mercedes-Benz announced that its 2023 S-Class and S-Class EQS sedans will include the advanced driver assistance system Drive Pilot, which it claims is capable of Level 3 automation. Mercedes claims it is the first vehicle to receive international valid system approval for conditionally-automated driving (SAE Level 3). This is a significant milestone in automotive development. However, the feature will not be available in the US, but only in Germany.
According to the Society of Automotive Engineers Level 3 means that the driver is not required to supervise the vehicle in highly controlled settings, such as on certain mapped highways. The driver must still be able to take control of the vehicle at any moment, even if it is in a zone between Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems like Tesla’s Autopilot and Level 4 fully autonomous taxi services like Waymo in Phoenix, Arizona.
Many companies claim to be releasing Level 3 vehicles in the next few years. Volvo, which also uses Luminar’s lidar for its upcoming electric cars, stated that its Ride Pilot will allow its vehicles to drive on certain highways by themselves without the need for human supervision. However, the company plans to enable the feature in California only once it has been authorized by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Many AV companies, including Waymo and Argo, have stated that they will not be working on Level 3 technology and instead will focus exclusively on Level 4. Because Level 3 is considered potentially dangerous because drivers may be confused about when they will need to take over control of the vehicle, it is considered potentially dangerous.
Mercedes’ partnership with Luminar also includes a data sharing aspect. Austin Russell, the CEO of the company, stated that collecting data from Mercedes’ vehicles would ultimately improve his company’s autonomous car software.
Russell pointed out that Waymo, an AV company owned by Alphabet, has the largest fleet of AV vehicles in the world with hundreds of vehicles operating in suburban Phoenix. He stated that the ultimate goal was to have “hundreds and thousands of vehicles” on roads around the globe collecting data on traffic and road conditions. This will allow companies like Luminar, to launch autonomous vehicle features in a wider range of markets.
He said that it takes not only hundreds but hundreds of thousands of vehicles in order to reach the global level data needed and not just in a particular suburban area. You don’t even have to pay drivers. It is the people who drive the cars that allow it to continue improving and getting better.
This isn’t the first time a Daimler-owned company bought shares in Luminar. Daimler Trucks, which is a division within Mercedes-Benz’s parent company bought a minority stake in the company for 2020.
Luminar has secured commitments to purchase its lidars from a variety of companies. The company has agreements with Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Toyota Research Institute and Intel’s Mobileye. It also has deals with Airbus, Volvo, Audi and two Chinese companies: Pony.ai and automaker SAIC. Luminar could even be a partner with Tesla, despite Elon Musk’s vocal denigration of lidar being a “crutch” and a fool’s errand.

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