Toyota and Luminar

Toyota Research Institute just announced its Platform 2.1 test autonomous vehicle. The first thing that jumps out is that it has two steering wheels.

Somebody told me, “They’re moving in the wrong direction.” It’s easy to tease, but perhaps there are important research goals, particularly human-machine-interaction goals, that will be possible by putting the safety driver in the seat normally reserved (in the US) for a passenger. I assume they thought this through.

More interesting to me is that Toyota will be the first automaker to publicly use Luminar lidars on its self-driving vehicles. Luminar bills itself as a five year-old startup founded by 22 year-old Austin Russell, meaning he started a lidar company when he was 17, which is kind of wild.

Interestingly, Luminar eschewed the normal concern about lidar, which is that they’re too expensive. Instead, it opted to produce a potentially even more expensive lidar that achieves higher performance than competing sensors, including higher resolution and longer range.

Luminar may yet drive down the cost of their individual sensor units as production volumes increase. But, for now, by using Luminar sensors, Toyota seems to be making a bet on performance over price.

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