THE INTERSECTION OF BUSINESS AND PHOTONICS TECHNOLOGY
MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management is the author of Toward
Entrepreneurship ( www.miltonchang.com), was president of Newport and
New Focus, and is on the boards of several companies. He is a trustee of
Caltech and has served on the SEC Advisory Committee, NIST Visiting
Committee, and the authoring committee of the National Academy’s
report on optics and photonics. He is a fellow of the IEEE, OSA, and LIA.
Direct your management, business, and career questions to
meets demand for
autonomous vehicle lidar
This month, I interviewed Dr. Jason
Eichenholz, CTO and co-founder of
Luminar Technologies. The company is
developing high-performance light detection and ranging (lidar) for autonomous vehicles. I jumped at the opportunity because self-driving cars is a hot
topic of current interest.
Milton Chang: When do you think
we can buy cars that can perform all
the functions a human driver can?
Jason Eichenholz: This is defined as
Level 5 by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Sensor performance and perception is
the main limiting factor in making this
a reality. I think we can easily foresee
having safe, semi-autonomous vehicles
by 2021. We believe Luminar will accelerate the deployment of safe Level 5 autonomous vehicles by at least five years.
MC: Describe your product.
JE: Our product is a new type of lidar
that allows autonomous vehicles to see
and understand the world in 3D (see
page 33 for more information). A self-driving car needs to be more than 99%
reliable, and it’s the last 1% of cases
that is an order of magnitude more difficult to solve. There is no other technology that has the accuracy and the
range to make self-driving cars safe in
MC: How do you differentiate?
JE: Our lidar solution is able to see up
to 50X higher resolution and 10X farther range than some of the best-perform-
ing lidar systems deployed. This means that we can see 10% reflectivity (dark)
objects at 200+ m to offer over seven seconds of reaction time at highway speeds.
Systems today can only see dark objects at about 30 m or so.
MC: What do you do differently?
JE: Every aspect of our design is customized from the chip level up to achieve
the highest level of performance. Lidar systems deployed on cars today operate at 905 nm, which has limitations in range and resolution due to eye safety.
We operate at 1550 nm inside the “eye-safe” region, which continued on page 58