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Courtesy of Luminar

Luminar, a secretive five-year-old Silicon Valley startup, has been trying to improve one of the components central to most self-driving cars. The company has its own take on LiDAR, the laser-based sensor that helps autonomous vehicles "see" the world around them. And according to its 22-year-old CEO, Luminar's technology will pave the way for autonomous cars that are better, cheaper and safe.

Why this matters: Luminar says it's designed-from-scratch LiDAR devices can be cheaper and more accurate.

Core technology: Once obscure LiDAR sensors have become all the rage thanks to the recent self-driving car boom. LiDAR sensors project eye-safe laser beams around them, and measure how fast the light is reflect back to map out the objects and environment around them. Everyone from Alphabet and Uber to traditional car makers like General Motors rely on LiDAR as a key part of their self-driving car efforts. LiDAR sensors are also at the center of an on-going trade secret theft dispute between Waymo (Alphabet's self-driving car unit) and Uber.

Better and cheaper: According to Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell the company has designed its LiDAR devices from scratch, including the chips, yielding a design that he says offers more accurate maps than the competition. Namely, Luminar's LiDAR uses lasers at a 1550 nanometer wavelength, not the commonly used 905 nanometer wavelength. It's also ditched the conventional silicon and built its chips out of indium gallium arsenide, which Russell says contributes to increased performance. Eventually, Russell believes Luminar's devices will also be significantly cheaper than anything currently available on the market costing tens of thousands of dollars, though he declined to say how much a unit currently costs to manufacture or the company's near-term cost targets.

The company: Luminar already has 150 employees, and recently opened a facility in Orlando, a hotbed of optics engineering talent. It has acquired two companies, including Open Photonics, whose co-founder, Jason Eichenholz, became Luminar's CTO. It's gearing up to manufacture its first 10,000-unit run of its latest device.

Funding: Luminar raised $36 million in seed funding since its founding in 2012 from Canvas Ventures, GVA Capital, and the Peter Thiel-backed 1517 Fund, among others.

The story has been updated with the correct laser wavelength.

Go deeper

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
1 hour ago - Health

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston. Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.

Obama: Broad slogans like "defund the police" lose people

Snapchat.

Former President Barack Obama told Peter Hamby on the Snapchat original political show "Good Luck America" that "snappy" slogans such as "defund the police" can alienate people, making the statements less effective than intended.

What he's saying: "You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done," Obama told Hamby in an interview that will air Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. EST on Snapchat.