Mercedes sees Luminar eyes in its self-driving cars

Mercedes-Benz has taken a major step forward in its efforts to produce self-driving cars, partnering with Luminar to include the latter's Iris lidar technology in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The partnership will give the company a significant technological advantage over some of its rivals while helping it build on the success it has already enjoyed in the self-driving market.

Self-driving vehicles are the next major evolution of the automobile, with virtually every major manufacturer working to bring safe and effective systems to the market. One of the biggest, and most obvious, challenges is creating a system that will help the vehicle identify obstacles and dangers, and avoid them.

Rather than reinvent the wheel (pun intended), Mercedes-Benz is partnering with Luminar, one of the leaders in the lidar market. Luminar already has partnerships with Volvo, Daimler Truck AG, NVIDIA, and Intel Mobileye, in addition to Mercedes-Benz.

Why lidar is critical to self-driving efforts

Lidar systems use lasers to gauge the distance from the vehicle to surrounding objects. This gives the vehicle the ability to "see" surrounding objects and make the necessary adjustments and course corrections.

One of the things that set Luminar apart is the distance at which its lidar systems can detect and classify objects, with the company claiming an effective range of 250 meters (820ft). At 250 meters, Luminar's system can identify objects, traffic lanes, and detect dark objects at night, such as a black car or a tire in the middle of the road.

Mercedes-Benz is already set to sell Level 3 autonomous vehicles in 2022 (via InsideEVs). Autonomous vehicles are ranked according to level, with Level 0 having no automation and Level 5 requiring no human driving, not even providing a steering wheel or method for the human to take over (via Synopsys). Instead, humans are effectively just passengers, telling the car where they want to be taken. For reference, Tesla's Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise are considered Level 2, meaning the Mercedes-Benz Level 3 vehicle in 2022 is a significant step forward.

The company clearly sees its Luminar partnership as a way to further drive its automated vehicle development. Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, Chief Technology Officer responsible for Development and Procurement, said:

Luminar is the perfect addition to our existing roster of first-class cooperations with leading and cutting–edge tech companies. Mercedes-Benz's achievement of SAE Level 3 already marked a huge milestone for automated driving and I am absolutely convinced that partnerships will increase our level of ambition for what is possible in future. Cooperation is an essential part of Mercedes-Benz's strategy. Therefore, I am highly delighted to have Austin Russell and Luminar on board for our journey.