Austin Russell is the 25-year-old founder and CEO of Luminar, a startup in Silicon Valley that makes LIDAR sensors for self-driving cars. LIDAR technology had been used for short-distance mapping, but Luminar claims to have a functioning LIDAR that works at 250 meters, which is a breakthrough. Luminar recently went public, making Austin today's youngest self-made billionaire. And when it comes to self-driving cars, youth is definitely an advantage -- Austin told me we're still years if not decades away from fully self-driving cars, and there's a lot of work to be done to make them safe, effective, and ubiquitous. That work is racing ahead -- Luminar has deals with Volvo, Audi, Toyota, and others -- but building a complete self-driving car is still a long-term project. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. I'm very excited to talk to you. You are, as far as the last thing I read, the youngest self-made billionaire in America, your company just went public in a SPAC [special purpose acquisitions company]. And come Pi Day, 26. You were born on Pi Day? So, Luminar, it's a company that makes LIDAR sensors. You have a number of deals to supply LIDAR sensors to major automakers. I want to talk about all of that. One thing that I always get frustrated by in origin stories is no one ever really talks about act two. In 2012 you were at Stanford, you had this idea to do LIDAR sensors. I want to talk about act two for a little bit. Just that middle part of going from "I've got a great idea," to "This company is actually up and running and functional." So give me a sense of, at the beginning you were a student at Stanford, you got a Thiel Fellowship from Peter Thiel. What was the next step? Did you sit down and build a LIDAR sensor?
Microsoft Corp. is investing in General Motors Co. 's driverless-car startup Cruise as part of a strategic tie-up, another sign of renewed interest in the autonomous-technology space after a relatively quiet period. Microsoft is among a group of companies that will invest more than $2 billion in San Francisco-based Cruise, which has been majority-owned by GM since early 2016. The financing brings Cruise's valuation to $30 billion, Cruise said Tuesday, up from an estimated $19 billion in spring 2019. GM is adding to its Cruise investment as part of the funding round and will retain a majority stake, a Cruise spokesman said. The investment also includes current stakeholder Honda Motor Co. and other institutional investors that Cruise declined to name.
A driverless-vehicle startup has become the first company approved to make deliveries in in California using an autonomous vehicle. Mountain View, California-based Nuro says it plans to begin commercial service as early as next year. Nuro started testing its fleet on California roads in 2017 and, during the pandemic, has shuttled medical goods to a Sacramento field hospital. The permit, however, will allow the company to charge for its service. Founded by two former Google engineers, Nuro will first launch a fleet of autonomous Toyota Priuses, then introduce its own low-speed R2 vehicle.
Zoox, a self-driving car company that Amazon bought in June, has finally revealed its robotaxi after six years of gnarly prototypes and secrecy. And while it broadly resembles other first-generation autonomous vehicles from automakers and Silicon Valley startups, Zoox's robotaxi has a few standout features, as well as an overall polish to it that makes obvious why Amazon thinks it might be the cornerstone of a fledgling autonomous ride-hailing service. The autonomous "carriage-style" vehicle is an all-electric four-wheeler that seats up to four people, and is similar in appearance to fully self-driving vehicles created by other companies in the space. At just 3.63 meters long, it falls somewhere in between the big, boxy Origin robotaxi from Cruise (which is owned by General Motors) and the delivery-focused robot made by Nuro. To further differentiate, Zoox has spent the last few years working on outfitting its autonomous vehicle with the ability to drive both forward and backward, and side to side, or "bi-directionally." Combined with four-wheel steering functionality, Zoox says its vehicle will be able to handle precise maneuvers like "tight curbside pickups" and "tricky U-turns."
Amazon's autonomous vehicle company, Zoox, unveiled its self-driving car that brings it one step closer to unleashing a fleet of robotaxis. The electric, fully driverless vehicle is designed as a'carriage-style car that sits four passengers facing each other and is the first in the industry that is capable of operating up to 75 miles per hour. It is equipped with two battery packs that provide the vehicle with up to 16 continuous hours on a single charge. Zoox plans to soon launch an app for its future ride-hailing service in major cities across the US including San Francisco and Las Vegas. Amazon's autonomous vehicle company, Zoox, unveiled its self-driving car that brings it one step closer to unleashing a fleet of robotaxis Aicha Evans, Zoox Chief Executive Office, said: 'Revealing our functioning and driving vehicle is an exciting milestone in our company's history and marks an important step on our journey towards deploying an autonomous ride-hailing service.' 'We are transforming the rider experience to provide superior mobility-as-a-service for cities.' 'And as we see the alarming statistics around carbon emissions and traffic accidents, it's more important than ever that we build a sustainable, safe solution that allows riders to get from point A to point B.' The four-wheeled vehicle is just 11 feet long, features four seats inside the carriage-style design and has one of the smallest footprints in the industry, claims Zoox.
Continental AG is taking a minority stake in AEye Inc., a Dublin, California-based developer of LiDAR technology, in order to bring its autonomous vehicle technology to commercial vehicles sooner. Specifically, AEye, founded in 2013, has developed a long-range LiDAR system that can detect vehicles at a distance of more than 300 meters and pedestrians at more than 200 meters. Continental hopes the investment will enhance its current short-range LiDAR technology that is slated to go into production by the end of 2020. Then the AEye system would be deployed in a automotive passenger or commercial vehicle later this decade. "We now have optimum short-range and long-range LiDAR technologies with their complimentary sets of benefits under one roof," said Frank Petznick, head of Continental's advanced driver assistance systems, in a statement.
Cars that drive themselves may one day improve road safety by reducing human error – and hopefully deaths by accidents too. One morning in March 2019, a brand new, cherry-red Tesla Model 3 sat in front of a Sheraton hotel in Vancouver, Canada. Once they were inside the car, Amat Cama and Richard Zhu, both tall and lean twentysomethings, needed only a few minutes. They exploited a weakness in the browser of the "infotainment" system to get inside one of the car's computers. Then they used the system to run a few lines of their own code, and soon their commands were appearing on the screen. Cama and Zhu got the car, but they weren't thieves.
San Francisco – Michigan announced an initiative to explore the development of a more than 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of road dedicated to connected and autonomous vehicles between the cities of Ann Arbor and Detroit. The project will be led by Cavnue, a subsidiary of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, and will be supported by an advisory committee that includes General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., as well as autonomous driving startups Argo AI and Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo. "We are taking the initial steps to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future," Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. Michigan said the dedicated autonomous vehicle (AV) corridor is the first of its kind and eventually will improve safety and transit access for communities along the road. The first two years of the project will focus on testing technology and exploring the viability of a highway dedicated to vehicles that drive themselves.
IN MARCH Starsky Robotics, a self-driving lorry firm based in San Francisco, closed down. Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, its founder, gave several reasons for its failure. Investors' interest was already cooling, owing to a run of poorly performing tech-sector IPOs and a recession in the trucking business. His firm's focus on safety, he wrote, did not go down well with impatient funders, who preferred to see a steady stream of whizzy new features. But the biggest problem was that the technology was simply not up to the job.
China's Didi Chuxing has banked $500 million in investment dollars for its autonomous driving subsidiary following the closure of its first funding round led by Softbank Vision Fund 2. The investment is expected to help the Chinese ride-hailing service develop and eventually deploy its first fleet of autonomous vehicles in specific areas in China and abroad. "Didi aims to launch autonomous fleet operations in select locations as China seeks to build a comprehensive digital infrastructure network based on 5G, AI, and IoT technologies," the company said. "Didi also plans to further deepen cooperation with global upstream and downstream auto industry partners towards mass production of autonomous driving vehicles, with the aim of advancing the transformation of the global automotive and transportation industries." The company has been working on developing and testing autonomous vehicle technology since 2016, and in August last year spun out its autonomous driving unit into an independent company. Didi has also been operating automated test vehicles in Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou in China, as well as the state of California in the US.