Volvo Invests in Silicon Valley Lidar Specialist Luminar

The investment arm of Swedish automaker Volvo is buying a stake in Silicon Valley Lidar startup Luminar as it speeds development of its autonomous vehicle and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) portfolio.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., Luminar specializes in advanced sensor technology for use in autonomous vehicles, including Lidar, a type of laser vision that keeps self-driving cars continuously positioned on the road.

The company claims its technology allows Lidar sensors to see farther with less reflectivity, which means the car can gather more fine-grained information about its surroundings, and at a greater distance.

Neither company disclosed financial details of the agreement.

“Lidar is a key technology for enabling autonomous cars to navigate safely in complex traffic environments and at higher speeds,” Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo Cars, wrote in a statement. “Our collaboration with Luminar allows us to learn more about its promising technologies and takes us one step further to the highly autonomous cars of the future.”

Launched earlier this year, Volvo’s Tech Fund focuses its investments on artificial intelligence, electrification, autonomous driving and digital mobility services.

“Luminar represents exactly the type of company and technology we seek to invest in, providing us with strategic access to new technologies, capabilities and talent,” Zaki Fasihuddin, CEO of the Tech Fund, wrote in a statement. “Supporting promising young firms that are at the forefront of technological development will help us introduce cutting-edge technology that strengthens our leading role in the industry.”

Among other global automakers investing in Lidar technology is General Motors, which in March announced that it would begin mass production of its first autonomous vehicle next year.

The Cruise AV will have a dedicated production line of its own at a facility at Orion Township, integrating Lidar sensors produced at its Brownstone plant.

Other US companies such as Uber, Lyft, Ford and Waymo, Chinese firm Baidu, and German automaker Mercedes-Benz are integrating an average of $200,000 worth of sensors into hundreds of conventional cars, seeking to transform them into fully autonomous vehicles that operate on streets worldwide.

In the past two years, more than $800 million has been invested in Lidar companies. For example, Blackmore, founded in 2016, recently received $18 million from BMW and Toyota, while Quanergy, launched in 2012, received $180 million in funding in 2017.

A May report from the French research firm Yole Développement projects that the market for automotive Lidar would balloon from an estimated $325 million in 2017 to more than $5 billion in 2023, ratcheting up a rapid compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 60% for the period.

The report projected that in the following years the annual growth pace would slow to a still-impressive 21%, and estimated the Lidar market value for self-driving vehicles would rise to $28 billion by 2032.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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