May 1, 2019

Luminar taps AV-friendly Florida for lidar manufacturing

Orlando is a tech hub for companies like Luminar. Photo: Luminar

ORLANDO, Fla. — Luminar, the lidar company trying to build the "eyes" for autonomous vehicles, plans to turn its central Florida headquarters into a hub for advanced manufacturing and process engineering as it moves toward mass-production by the "early 2020s," says Luminar co-founder and CTO Jason Eichenholz.

Why it matters: There's plenty of competition in this area, with biggest rival Velodyne announcing a mass-production deal with Nikon last week. Still, Eichenholz thinks Luminar will have an edge in enabling systems like driverless trucks, robotaxis and driver-out-of-the-loop systems, partly because of its location.

Background: I visited Luminar while joining AOL founder-turned-investor Steve Case on his firm's "Rise of the Rest" tour highlighting startups in cities outside of traditional tech hubs that are often overlooked by venture capitalists.

  • Florida is the 3rd largest state, but only 1.3% of VC funding last year went to companies here.
  • Eichenholz runs the Orlando facility, where two-thirds of the company's 350 employees are based. His co-founder, Austin Russell, is based in San Francisco.

The big picture: Florida has some of the country's most progressive rules governing AV testing.

  • But Eichenholz attributes his success in Florida to the laser and sensor expertise in the area, with engineering talent from nearby military bases and defense giants Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
  • He also recruits directly from the University of Central Florida’s engineering program, where he got his PhD 25 years ago.
  • Plus, Disney World attracts more visitors every year than any other U.S. destination, making it a unique place to test vehicles like tourist shuttles, and also to begin exposing people to AVs to increase their comfort with them.

Between the lines: Silicon Valley moves at lightning speed, while Detroit is more cautious and skeptical of Big Tech firms. Eichenholz said Luminar is a neutral intermediary — a benefit of its location outside either hub.

Go deeper: Self-driving car sensor startups may soon detect the end of the road

Editors note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Luminar's Orlando headquarters would be the site of mass production. The company's Orlando facility will the be the site of design, advanced manufacturing and process engineering, while mass production will take place elsewhere.

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Rival protesters over the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi, India, on Monday. Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called for calm Tuesday as deadly clashes erupted in the city's northeast between supporters and opponents of India's controversial new citizenship law.

Why it matters: Per the BBC, a police officer and six civilians "died in the capital's deadliest day" since last year's passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act — which allows religious minorities but excludes Muslims from nearby countries to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted for their religion — hours before President Trump and members of the U.S. first family were due to visit the city as part of their visit to India.

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Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend Pete Buttigieg speaks at an event in Charleston, South Carolina on Monday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

South Carolina newspaper The State endorsed former Southbend Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Monday night for the state's Democratic primary.

Why it matters: It's a welcome boost for Buttigieg ahead of Tuesday's Democratic debate in South Carolina and the state's primary on Saturday.

White House requests $2.5 billion to fight coronavirus as U.S. cases rise

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The Trump administration sent a letter to Congress Monday requesting a funding commitment of at least $2.5 billion to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. rose to 53.

The big picture: As South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures in efforts to thwart the spread of the virus, WHO expressed concern about infections with no clear link to China. COVID-19 has killed at least 2,699 people and infected more than 80,000 others, with all but 27 deaths occurring in mainland China.

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