Mercedes-Benz is expanding its partnership with LiDAR manufacturer Luminar as part of its goal to roll out Level 3 autonomous technology across a number of its vehicles.
The company doesn’t specify which, but says the tech will feature in “a broad range of its next-generation production vehicle lines by mid-decade”.
Luminar’s Iris LiDAR will not only aid Mercedes-Benz’s Level 3 Drive Pilot system, it will also allow for “enhanced driver assistance systems for urban environments”.
The multi-billion dollar deal will see an expansion of Luminar’s manufacturing plant with a new factory in Asia set to open and “almost entirely be dedicated to supporting the Mercedes series production program”, a Luminar spokesperson told The Verge.
Luminar says the new goal to increase the amount of units to Mercedes-Benz to multiply its original partnership tenfold, making it larger than all of its OEM partnerships combined.
The Iris LiDAR units will also have a “simplified” design integration, for a sleeker profile.
Mercedes-Benz has said its next-generation Drive Pilot system, powered by cameras, sensors and LiDAR technology, will give users the option of hands-free driving.
It says the Drive Pilot system will control the vehicle on its own when activated on “suitable freeway selections” and where there is high traffic density.
Users will have to remain in the driver’s seat for Drive Pilot to stay engaged.
Drivers, however, can play games using the infotainment system or turn their head to talk to the front passenger without the autonomous driving system disengaging.
A camera will constantly monitor the driver’s attention and disengage if the driver falls asleep or removes their full attention from the front.
“In a first step we have introduced a Level 3 system in our top line models. Next, we want to implement advanced automated driving features in a broader scale within our portfolio,” said Mercedes-Benz’s chief technology officer Markus Schäfer.
“I am convinced that Luminar is a great partner to help realize our vision and roadmap for automated and accident-free driving.”
Luminar has previously said it’s aiming to get the cost of its equipment down to as little as US$500 (A$733), with autonomous applications carrying around a $1000 (A$1466) price tag.
Mercedes-Benz announced its partnership with Luminar back in January 2022, and has a small stake in the US firm.
The carmaker has confirmed at this stage it has no plan to increase its stake.
Luminar, founded in 2012 by 17-year old prodigy Austin Russell, has established partnerships with various automakers like Volvo and Polestar.
Garnering greater recognition in 2017 and 2018, one of Luminar’s high-profile announcements was a partnership with its first major carmaker, Toyota, through the Toyota Research Institute (TRI).
Luminar also serves as a supplier for other automotive suppliers, including Intel’s Mobileye, as well as providing its Iris LiDAR system to Nvidia as part of the latter’s ‘Drive Hyperion’ autonomous driving platform.
LiDAR technology has been around since the 1960s and was until the 1990s primarily used in aviation.
In the 1990s, LiDAR-based adaptive cruise control systems were offered in various vehicles within the Japanese domestic market including manufacturers like Mitsubishi and Toyota.
The concept of LiDAR hasn’t changed, with laser sensors employing near-infrared light to detect the shapes and distances of objects.
LiDAR technology works in sync with other sensors and cameras to aid active safety and driver assist technology and in detecting objects like cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Volvo, like Mercedes-Benz, is turning to Luminar for LiDAR technology.
The brand announced that it will integrate LiDAR technology and its own unique software with goals to create the “safest car at this point in time”.
“We have a team of about 800 software engineers that only write the software between the silicon and what we call that sensor set, which is the cameras and the LiDAR, and the whole sensor set software is written by us,” said Volvo CEO Jim Rowan.