This 22-Year-Old Gives Incredible “Sight” to Driverless Cars

What were YOU doing at 22? 

Toyota Research Institute and Luminar Technologies have teamed up to provide driverless technology to the masses. Silicon Valley-based startup, Luminar, makes LiDAR—Light Detection and Ranging—which are sensors that will give self-driving cars the ability to see far beyond the human eye. It is currently being used by its self-driving Lexus fleet at TRI, and will be tested across the automaker’s facilities in the U.S.

Founded by Austin Russell, Luminar Technologies’ LiDAR sensors can see 10 times farther and with 50 times higher resolution. That will truly assist these robotic cars gauge distances, hazards or pedestrians up front and instantaneously respond on what it has to do next. Russell’s company, which employs more than 250 people and just recently raised US$36 million, already has contracts with Toyota Research Institute and other companies working on self-driving cars.

“We have the ability to see out a couple of hundred meters, even dark objects on the road like tires, with less than 10% reflectivity,” Russell said.

Austin Russell, 22, the founder and CEO of Luminar Technologies. 

A Lexus LS sedan packed with cameras, radar and LiDAR sensors, part of Toyota Research Institute’s latest autonomous tech fleet.

Dr James Kuffner, former Research Scientist and Engineering Director at Google and now TRI’s CTO, had this to say: “We may have built the world’s most perceptive autonomous vehicle platform, with all the sensors, radar, cameras and LiDAR. One of the things we’re excited about is (Luminar’s LiDAR) has excellent range and resolution that will give us some great capability.”

LiDAR’s ability to see in all lighting and weather conditions and at long range makes it extremely vital in self-driving cars. Nowadays, new cars are already equipped with cameras and radars to alert drivers of pedestrians and nearby hazards. Self-driving cars need artificial intelligence and cutting-edge computing power to understand road conditions and surroundings, and just like human drivers, they need to see, and that where LiDAR ‘eyes’ come in.

Ability to see 10 times farther and 50 times higher resolution.  

As for TRI, they are totally committed to making automobiles safer, more affordable and more accessible to everyone, hence the partnership. Late in 2015, Toyota unveiled a US$1 billion programme to advance AI and robotics, hoping to make cars safer and smarter, and also develop useful, reliable home robots to assist people. TRI is spearheading that effort.

Here’s a vid on this piece of technology which will be very soon synced to our cars and our lives:

Image credit: Toyota Research Institute; Forbes

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