Tesla is not the only high-profile industry player with a big year.
Luminar, which is creating sophisticated lidar technology in a number of independent/ self-driving initiatives, is going public on Thursday with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and the deal will make Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell a millionaire – 25 years old.
Young Founder Austin Russel
Russell, who founded the company as a 17-year-old high school student, said the feeling of being a millionaire (on paper, at least) is “absolutely unbelievable” and “totally inclusive.”
But a Luminar official said he was also following the plan the company had in mind since its inception. “It’s completely surreal and totally logical and it’s hard to define its magnitude, but this has always been the goal,” he said. “We have established the company to be a long-term sustainable business and to empower the future of all these automakers. We’ve been there for a long time, “Russell told CNBC’s” Squawk Box “on Thursday morning.
Russell was a science kid who loved knowing more and more about it.
“I think, I memorized the periodic table – I think I was about 2 years old anyway,” Russell told CNBC Make It in a 2018 speech. “I really enjoyed learning certain things … reading independently and understanding the many new forms of science, among other things.”
That turned out to be work for lasers and eventually, lidar, which uses lasers to find and measure distance and ultimately creates a 3D map of the real world that can be used for self-driving.
He ended up at Stanford University studying physics, but dropped out and found Thiel Fellowship, built by tech icon and PayPal founder Peter Thiel to provide technical talent in other ways in traditional education programs.
The Company ‘Luminar’
Russel said the company has a $ 1.3 billion forward car business book and estimates its overall market opportunity within the multi-trillion auto market at “half a trillion” as lidar and autonomous vehicles come into focus for the auto industry.
Luminar works with car manufacturers including Volvo, owned by Chinese car company Geely.
While Russell said it would be difficult for the market to introduce new technology without comps on the existing market, he noted that Luminar is working with Intel’s Mobileye, which is also focused on the future of independent hearing systems. “It’s cool to see back in 2017 they got a 43x business profit.”
Luminar, which lists the 2018 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, began trading under the LAZR tick at Nasdaq on Thursday, following the conclusion of its agreement with SPAC Gores Metropoulos.
Elon Musk’s Skepticism
A Luminar official is not worried about lidar technology his company once created as a commercial IP, saying the rise of this emerging technology is much closer to what chip maker Nvidia is doing than a tech hardware company. “We have one of the most crazy options in any company right now,” Russell said. “We built and pioneered the main parts … building from the ground up. We didn’t use parts of the goods. We have the largest portfolio in sensory systems, in addition to the other five top R&D efforts combined.”
The competitive technology of lidar includes firms such as Velodyne and Alphabet’s Waymo.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said a lidar is not needed for autonomous driving to work. “Pretending to be stupid,” were Musk’s words. The world’s greatest millionaire, Russell, disagrees.
“I think 50 business partners and many car manufacturers we work with would agree. Cameras and other systems are suitable for assisted driving, but independently, this is where high performance is required, ”he said, adding that Luminar was the only company capable of providing this technology in high-speed production and use.
Luminar chief executive and founder Austin Russell is set to become a 25-year-old billionaire when his independent driving technology company Luminar comes to light on Thursday.
Lidar sensing technology company works with major car manufacturers and Intel’s Mobileye.
Elon Musk says lidar is not needed for self-driving, but Luminar has a $ 1 billion business book with relationships with major car manufacturers.