Luminar hires execs from Apple, Nvidia and Tesla

Luminar, the U.S. lidar company, is the latest to poach executives from Apple, Nvidia and Tesla in the continuing talent war in automated driving and autonomous vehicle technology.

Christopher “CJ” Moore, director of autonomous systems at Apple and former director of Tesla’s Autopilot software, has joined Luminar as VP of software. Taner Ozcelik, founder of Nvidia’s Automotive Business, has become executive vice president and general manager responsible for research and development and Luminar’s semiconductor subsidiaries, among other areas. Tesla’s chief IP Counsel, Chris Lubeck, is now head of intellectual property.

Hiring former Tesla employees is notable, given CEO Elon Musk’s vocal stance against the technology. He called lidar a “crutch” and a “fool’s errand” at Tesla’s Autonomy Day in 2019.

Lidar (an acronym for “light detection and ranging”) is a remote sensing method that can measure the car’s distance from objects and pedestrians. The system uses a laser to send pulses of light and a sensor that measures how long it takes the light to return. Autonomous driving companies including Cruise and Waymo use it to create 3D maps around the car. Automakers such as Mercedes are starting to turn to the sensor to offer more robust advanced driver assistance systems in passenger vehicles sold to consumers.

Musk called lidar expensive and unnecessary, choosing instead to use radar, ultrasonic sensors and cameras to support its advanced driver assistance system called Autopilot and its so-called “Full Self-Driving” system, which is a $12,000 upgrade and is not self-driving. Tesla later removed radar as well. However, there have been reports that Tesla is using lidar as a training tool for its system.

Other key hires include Jackie Chen, former president of Harman International, China, and Jared Jacobs, a former ZF Group executive who joined as Luminar’s VP of manufacturing operations.

Luminar expects that series production cars will come equipped with the company’s lidar over the next year.

“Within the next 12 months there’s going to be series production cars that are Luminar-equipped that are out there advancing this industry forward,” Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell said at the TechCrunch Mobility conference last week.

Earlier this month, Apple hired Ford’s global director of safety engineering, Desi Ujkashevic, to provide automotive expertise to the iPhone maker’s efforts to bring a self-driving car to market in 2024. Last year, Ford hired former Apple special projects team leader Doug Field for his software and advanced technology know-how.