Thursday, May 19, 2022

Luminar stock surges 23% on Mercedes self-driving deal

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Luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz will partner with self-driving sensor maker Luminar Technologies to enable fully automated driving on highways for its next-generation vehicles, Luminar’s founder said.

Luminar’s stock was up $ 3.09, or 23%, to $ 16.54 in mid-afternoon trading Thursday.

Automakers from Tesla to GM and Volvo have set their eyes on introducing autonomous vehicles, although regulatory and technological challenges remain.

Tech firms such as Alphabet’s Waymo and Cruise are also developing self-driving taxis or trucks for commercial use such as ride-hailing and delivery services.

Vehicle autonomy “is really going mainstream with Mercedes,” Luminar CEO Austin Russell told Acesparks, without disclosing a timeframe for putting the technology in Mercedes ’vehicles.

He said the two would develop “true” autonomy capabilities, including improved safety capabilities such as automatic braking.

General Motors is working with its majority-owned Cruise self-driving unit to introduce a personal autonomous vehicle by as early as mid-decade, Chief Executive Mary Barra said this month.

Luminar CEO Austin Russell says vehicle autonomy “is really going mainstream” with Mercedes, which has been showcasing driverless cars like this concept vehicle at a 2015 electronics show.

“If you want to be able to get to truly autonomous capabilities in a consumer vehicle, and you have to industrialize hardware, software, all of these systems that come into play. That by the way, is completely different than the work that the robo-taxi companies have been working on, ”Russell said.

He said it is a challenge to mass produce lidars and make sure they are robust enough to meet stringent requirements from automakers. Lidars use laser light pulses to measure the distance between the sensor and the target object, and are widely seen as essential to achieving full autonomous driving.

A Luminar test vehicle stops to avoid a child-sized test dummy as it is demonstrated on a test track
Luminar showed off the use of its Lidar-based technology in a test vehicle at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“It is a completely different kind of business going from a science and technology business to an automotive corporation,” Russell said.

Volvo and Luminar said earlier this month that they will put a hands-free driving system in an upcoming electric sport utility vehicle.

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