Mobileye taps Luminar to supply lidar for its robotaxi fleet

Luminar, the buzzy sensor startup that is on the verge of becoming a publicly traded company, locked in a supplier deal to furnish Intel subsidiary Mobileye with lidar for its fleet of autonomous vehicles.

The deal, announced Friday, will see a rising star paired with a company that has long dominated the automotive industry. While the supplier agreement is nowhere near the scale of Mobileye’s core computer vision business, it is an important collaboration that extends beyond a few pilot programs. Luminar has had a development agreement with Mobileye for nearly two years now. This new agreement signals the next critical step for both companies.

Mobileye’s camera-based sensors are used by most automakers to support advanced driver assistance systems. Today, more than 54 million vehicles have Mobileye technology. But the company, which was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion in 2017, has branched out in recent years, moving beyond its advanced driver assistance technology and toward the development of a self-driving vehicle system. Two years ago, Mobileye announced plans to launch a kit that includes visual perception, sensor fusion, its REM mapping system and software algorithms.

Mobileye has since ratcheted up its self-driving ambitions and taken what some in the industry see as an unlikely turn to become a robotaxi operator, not just a supplier.

Luminar and Mobileye’s agreement while small at the moment is still a production contract. Luminar’s lidar will be part of Mobileye’s first-generation fleet of driverless vehicles, which are being piloted in Dubai, Tel Aviv, Paris, China and Daegu City, South Korea. Mobileye’s ultimate aim is to expand its robotaxi operations and sell its self-driving stack (or AV series solution) to other companies. Mobileye CEO Ammon Shashua has said the company is targeting commercial robotaxi services to be launched in 2022.

“So you basically have a production deal here to be able to equip their vehicles towards the 2022 launch of their service and power that in parallel to their camera solution to create that safety and redundancy,” Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell said in a recent interview.

While the first use of this “AV series solution” is for Mobileye’s own internal fleet, Russell is interested in the opportunities that will follow.

“They’ve taken a very different strategy and are very different company than any other kind of private AV development company,” Russell said. “These guys have tens of millions of products deployed on series production vehicles; they know what it takes to put something into series production. So to able to ride that wave and get on the ground floor to be in production vehicles as well was of particular interest for us.”

Luminar has landed other production-level deals. Volvo announced in May that it will start producing vehicles in 2022 that are equipped with lidar and a perception stack from Luminar that the automaker will use to deploy an automated driving system for highways. For now, the lidar will be part of a hardware package that consumers can add as an option to a Volvo’s second-generation Scalable Product Architecture vehicles, starting with the XC90. Volvo will combine Luminar’s lidar with cameras, radar, software and back-up systems for functions such as steering, braking and battery power to enable its highway pilot feature.

Daimler’s trucks division said in October it had invested in Luminar as part of a broader partnership to produce autonomous trucks capable of navigating highways without a human driver behind the wheel.