Luminar, Volvo to jointly develop and sell self-driving solutions to automakers

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The global leader in automotive lidar hardware and software Luminar Technologies has strengthened its relations with Sweden-based Volvo Cars to build and market and an automated highway driving system to other automakers.

Luminar has also revealed its partnership with Volvo’s self-driving software subsidiary Zenseact.

The two companies are merging their tech to create what Luminar Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mr. Austin Russell pointed out as a “holistic autonomous vehicle stack” made for production vehicles. Zenseact Chief Executive Officer Mr. Odgard Anderson announced that Volvo will be the first customer that they plan to make this device available before any other automakers.

It’s worth noting that Luminar and Zenseact have different definitions of highway autonomy. They’re working on a device that would allow for hands-free, eyes-free autonomous driving on highways. As a result, the driver will be out of the loop and unable to take control of the car. The transition from this level of autonomy to manual driving is a difficult one that has previously baffled automakers.

In a webinar discussing the announcement Mr. Russell remarked that “This is something that’s being solved for just in the next couple of years, this going to be available on vehicles that you can buy starting with Volvo and then expanding outwards — that’s the distinction”.

Sentinel is the name of the stack that will be offered to other automakers which will combine Zenseact’s OnePilot autonomous driving software with Luminar’s Iris lidar, perception software, and other components as a base. According to Zenseact, the device is designed to manage highway autonomy and a variety of protective measures to proactively prevent accidents with evasive maneuvers, potentially lowering accident rates by up to seven times. The companies said that the Sentinel product can also be modified wirelessly, or over-the-air, to extend the autonomous operating domain and enhance vehicle safety over time.

Zenseact might not sound familiar, but its 550-person team has been creating advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and apps for years. After ending its joint venture with Veoneer, Volvo founded Zenseact.

While the larger autonomous industry focuses on robotaxi applications, Luminar and Zenseact are focused on delivering systems into series production vehicles. Many automakers and tech companies consider lidar sensors to be an essential piece of technology for safely deploying autonomous vehicles. Automakers have returned to developing nearer-term tech for production vehicles as the timetable to deploy commercial robotaxi fleets has lengthened.

Mr. Andersson commented that “The whole point of autonomous driving technology is to reduce accidents and save lives. This alliance enables us together to make that technology more broadly accessible and thus even more impactful”.

Volvo revealed about a year ago that it would begin manufacturing vehicles fitted with Luminar’s lidar and a perception stack in 2022 to deploy an automated driving system for highways. Volvo has stated that it will be responsible for the entire automated driving system.

Related: ‘Having technology not enough in car business’: Toyota President warns Apple