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Mercedes-Benz acquires stake in lidar maker Luminor, will use its sensors for autonomous vehicles of the future

Mercedes-Benz acquires stake in lidar maker Luminor, will use its sensors for autonomous vehicles of the future

Mercedes-Benz announced that it will integrate Luminar's lidar sensors into future production vehicles to enable autonomous driving capabilities.

The German automaker is also taking an equity stake in the Orlando, Florida-based company, acquiring a total of 1.5 million shares. Based on Luminar's share price of $13.45 at market on January 19, Mercedes-Benz is buying shares for approximately $20.2 million, or less than 1 percent of the company.

Lidar, a key component in autonomous driving, is a laser sensor that uses near-infrared light to detect the shape of objects. This helps autonomous vehicles "see" other objects on the road, such as cars, pedestrians and cyclists, without the help of GPS or network connections.

Mercedes-Benz says it plans to integrate Luminar's lidar sensors into its production vehicles, but there's still a lot we don't know. The automaker declined to share a timeline for integrating Luminar's lidar into its vehicles, which models will receive laser sensors, or what types of autonomous capabilities it will enable.

Mercedes-Benz has said that its model year 2023 S-Class and EQS sedans will come with the automaker's Drive Pilot advanced driver assistance system, which it says is capable of level 3 automation. Mercedes claims it is "the first to receive an internationally validated system approval for Conditional Automatic Driving (SAE Level 3) - a milestone in automotive development." However, this feature will be available only in Germany and not in the US.

Level 3, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, means that a driver's supervision is not required in a highly controlled setting like some mapped highways. The driver still needs to be prepared to take control at a moment's notice, leaving it in an inconspicuous area between Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems like Tesla's Autopilot, and Level 4 fully driverless vehicles, the Phoenix. , like Waymo's autonomous taxi service in Arizona. ,

Several companies are claiming to release Level 3 capable vehicles in the coming years. Volvo, which is also using Luminar's lidar in its upcoming electric vehicles, said its Ride Pilot will enable its vehicles to propel themselves on certain highways without any human supervision. The company plans to enable the feature in California after obtaining authorization from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

Most AV companies, including Waymo, Argo and Cruise, have said they are abandoning Level 3 and working exclusively on Level 4 technology. This is because Level 3 is considered potentially dangerous, given the possibility that drivers will be confused about when to control the vehicle.

There's also a data sharing angle to Mercedes' new partnership with Luminor. The company's CEO, Austin Russell, said Mercedes' ability to collect data from vehicles will eventually help improve his company's autonomous vehicle software.

Russell noted that AV company Waymo under Alphabet has one of the largest AV fleets in the world, with hundreds of vehicles operating in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. He said the ultimate goal was to collect data on road conditions and traffic on "hundreds of thousands of vehicles" on roads around the world, enabling companies like Luminar to launch autonomous vehicle features in a wide range of markets.

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