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Luminar eyes production vehicles with $100M round and new Iris lidar platform – TechCrunch

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Luminar is one of the major players in the new crop of lidar companies that have sprung up all over the world, and it’s moving fast to outpace its peers. Today the company announced a new $100 million funding round, bringing its total raised to more than $250 million — as well as a perception platform and a new, compact lidar unit aimed at inclusion in actual cars. Big day!

The new hardware, called Iris, looks to be about a third of the size of the test unit Luminar has been sticking on vehicles thus far. That one was about the size of a couple hardbacks stacked up, and Iris is more like a really thick sandwich.

Size is very important, of course, as few cars just have caverns of unused space hidden away in prime surfaces like the corners and windshield area. Other lidar makers have lowered the profiles of their hardware in various ways; Luminar seems to have compactified in a fairly straightforward fashion, getting everything into a package smaller in every dimension.

Test model, left, Iris on the right.

Photos of Iris put it in various positions: below the headlights on one car, attached to the rear-view mirror in another and high up atop the cabin on a semi truck. It’s small enough that it won’t have to displace other components too much, although of course competitors are aiming to make theirs even more easy to integrate. That won’t matter, Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell told me recently, if they can’t get it out of the lab.

“The development stage is a huge undertaking — to actually move it towards real-world adoption and into true series production vehicles,” he said (among many other things). The company that gets there first will lead the industry, and naturally he plans to make Luminar that company.

Part of that is of course the production process, which has been vastly improved over the last couple of years. These units can be made quickly enough that they can be supplied by the thousands rather than dozens, and the cost has dropped precipitously — by design.

Iris will cost less than $1,000 per unit for production vehicles seeking serious autonomy, and for $500 you can get a more limited version for more limited purposes like driver assistance, or ADAS. Luminar says Iris is “slated to launch commercially on production vehicles beginning in 2022,” but that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re shipping to customers right now. The company is negotiating more than a billion dollars in contracts at present, a representative told me, and 2022 would be the earliest that vehicles with Iris could be made available.

LUMINAR IRIS TRAFFIC JAM PILOT

The Iris units are about a foot below the center of the headlight units here. Note that this is not a production vehicle, just a test one.

Another part of integration is software. The signal from the sensor has to go somewhere, and while some lidar companies have indicated they plan to let the carmaker or whoever deal with it their own way, others have opted to build up the tech stack and create “perception” software on top of the lidar. Perception software can be a range of things: something as simple as drawing boxes around objects identified as people would count, as would a much richer process that flags intentions, gaze directions, characterizes motions and suspected next actions and so on.

Luminar has opted to build into perception, or rather has revealed that it has been working on it for some time. It now has 60 people on the task split between Palo Alto and Orlando, and hired a new VP of Software, former robo-taxi head at Daimler, Christoph Schroder.

What exactly will be the nature and limitations of Luminar’s perception stack? There are dangers waiting if you decide to take it too far, because at some point you begin to compete with your customers, carmakers that have their own perception and control stacks that may or may not overlap with yours. The company gave very few details as to what specifically would be covered by its platform, but no doubt that will become clearer as the product itself matures.

Last and certainly not least is the matter of the $100 million in additional funding. This brings Luminar to a total of over a quarter of a billion dollars in the last few years, matching its competitor Innoviz, which has made similar decisions regarding commercialization and development.

The list of investors has gotten quite long, so I’ll just quote Luminar here:

G2VP, Moore Strategic Ventures, LLC, Nick Woodman, The Westly Group, 1517 Fund / Peter Thiel, Canvas Ventures, along with strategic investors Corning Inc, Cornes, and Volvo Cars Tech Fund.

The board has also grown, with former Broadcom exec Scott McGregor and G2VP’s Ben Kortlang joining the table.

We may have already passed “peak lidar” as far as sheer number of deals and startups in the space, but that doesn’t mean things are going to cool down. If anything, the opposite, as established companies battle over lucrative partnerships and begin eating one another to stay competitive. Seems like Luminar has no plans on becoming a meal.

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Microsoft trackers run afoul of DuckDuckGo, get added to blocklist

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Aurich Lawson

DuckDuckGo, the privacy-minded search company, says it will block trackers from Microsoft in its desktop web browser, following revelations in May that certain scripts from Bing and LinkedIn were getting a pass.

In a blog post, DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg says that he’s heard users’ concerns since security researcher Zach Edwards’ thread that “we didn’t meet their expectations around one of our browser’s web tracking protections.” Weinberg says that, over the next week, the company’s browser will add Microsoft to the list of third-party tracking scripts blocked by its mobile and desktop browsers, as well as extensions for other browsers.

“Previously, we were limited in how we could apply our 3rd-Party Tracker Loading Protection on Microsoft tracking scripts due to a policy requirement related to our use of Bing as a source for our private search results,” Weinberg writes. “We’re glad this is no longer the case. We have not had, and do not have, any similar limitation with any other company.”

There are a lot of pervasive, identifying things that load up on most modern webpages. At issue in DuckDuckGo’s apps was its default blocking of scripts from companies like Facebook and Google loading on third-party websites. DuckDuckGo, which uses Microsoft’s Bing as one of its sources for search results, had to allow some of Microsoft’s trackers to load “due to a policy requirement.” In a Reddit response at the time of the revelation, Weinberg noted that Microsoft’s trackers were still blocked in most ways, like utilizing third-party cookies for fingerprinting visitors.

There’s more to the delicate dance between DuckDuckGo and Microsoft than just trackers, however. Microsoft also provides ads that run on DuckDuckGo’s search results. To allow advertisers to see when someone has clicked an ad on DuckDuckGo and arrived at their page, the DuckDuckGo apps won’t block requests from bat.bing.com. Weinberg notes that you can avoid this by turning off ads in DuckDuckGo search entirely. The company is working on validating ads in ways that can be non-tracking, Weinberg writes, akin to similar efforts by Safari and Firefox.

Finally, DuckDuckGo aims to be more open about its tracker blocking. The company committed its tracker blocklist to a public GitHub repository yesterday and published a new help doc on its tracking protections.

It can look like a lot of work over two scripts, but then DuckDuckGo lives inside the tricky balance of trying to make its search product convenient and relevant while offering its users as much privacy as websites can stand before breaking. And the 15-year-old company from Paoli, Pennsylvania, can’t just leave Bing behind entirely. Weinberg noted in his May Reddit response that most of its traditional search results and images come from Bing. “Really only two companies (Google and Microsoft) have a high-quality global web link index” due to the billion-dollar cost, Weinberg wrote. Every company that wants to provide search to the world faces either a duopoly or a very long journey.

Microsoft, meanwhile, continues to expand its advertising markets, most recently to Netflix, and, potentially, into its own operating system. Its advertising revenue was $3 billion for the quarter ending June 30, an increase of 15 percent year over year but the lowest growth rate in more than a year.

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Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t need easily legible legends on his mechanical keyboard

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Enlarge / Sonic the Hedgehog mechanical keyboard.

When you’re a beloved blue eulipotyphla with the speed of a race car, all the golden rings, a pal like Tails, and even a pair of hit feature films, you start feeling like you can do anything. That includes typing on a truncated mechanical keyboard without letters, numbers, or any other legends written on the top of the keycaps.

Higround, known for gaming gear, is releasing today a trio of 65 percent mechanical keyboards made in collaboration with Sega, as spotted by Nintendo Wire, as well as other Sega-focused gear, including keycaps and mousepads.

Dreamcast's <i>Sonic Adventure 2</i> mechanical keyboard.
Enlarge / Dreamcast’s Sonic Adventure 2 mechanical keyboard.

Pictures from the brand show a trio of keyboards coming to life with colorful details delivering nostalgic imagery anywhere from, depending on the keyboard, the loops and rings of the Green Hill Zone in 1991‘s Sonic the Hedgehog to the contrasting profiles of Sonic and Knuckles from 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2 to the rainbow-colored arrow keys mimicking console controller buttons in tribute to Sega’s last globally released console, the Dreamcast.

The PBT, dye-sublimated keycaps on the keyboards are 1.5 mm thick, according to Higround, and ditch informative legends on their topsides in favor of an artful appearance when viewing the keyboard from the top down. But from a typical seated position, you should be able to see legends side-printed on the front of the keycaps. You don’t have to be a touch typist to use the Sega keyboards, but if you’re not, they’ll be harder to use at first than the typical keyboard.

Sega Dreamcast mechanical keyboard.
Enlarge / Sega Dreamcast mechanical keyboard.

Sonic’s gotta go fast, so it’s fitting that the keyboards use Speed Silver linear mechanical switches from TTC. They’re specced for about 3.4 mm total travel, with a 1.08 mm actuation point and 45 grams of force to actuate (if you’re unsure of what that means, check out our mechanical keyboard guide). Those numbers make them a bit shorter to actuate and bottom out than the common Cherry MX Red switch (4mm / 2mm / 45gf); although, Higround could have gone shorter with low-profile mechanical switches to fit the speed theme even more.

The mechanical switches have Sonic-blue-like housing.

The mechanical switches have Sonic-blue-like housing.

If you’re looking for a speedy way to complete those spreadsheets, the Sega keyboards aren’t a winning fit since they lack a numpad.

Ultimately, you need a combination of Sega and linear typing fandom and the ability to work without a numpad (some touch-typing skills wouldn’t hurt either) in order for these keyboards to be something that can help you level up your productivity, rather than an interesting collector’s item.

But the keyboards aren’t as polarizing as they could be… at least they don’t make you type in Elvish.

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This 6-inch board turns a Raspberry Pi module into a DIY router

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Enlarge / Let your Pi do the work while the CM4 Router Board handles the connections.

If you’re intrigued by the prospect of building a DIY router, Seeed Studio has a board that’s just waiting to put a Raspberry Pi Computing Module 4 (CM4) to work. Assuming, of course, that you can find the Pi module.

Seeed’s CM4 Router Board adds two full-speed gigabit network ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a microSD slot, an HDMI out, a GPIO interface for Raspberry Pi HAT add-ons, and a 0.91-inch OLED display to your Pi CM4. Having the CM4 at the system’s core gives you 32 different options for RAM, storage, and wireless capabilities on your homebrew router. The Router Board comes with OpenWRT installed, but it could run Ubuntu, Raspberry OS, or any other Pi-friendly system.

Seeed notes that beyond DIY routers, the CM4 Router Board could also become a gateway, mini-NAS, wireless network bridge, or mini-server. You can buy a Pi CM4 with wireless capabilities, but you’ll likely need (or prefer) a separate Wi-Fi setup connected to your DIY router.

Why not just plug a USB-to-Ethernet adapter into the Pi you already have? Seeed says its board’s RTL8111E controller chip “offers better performance, lower CPU usage, and higher stability for a long time work [sic] compared with a USB network card.”

The CM4 Router Board should be available for around $55 soon at both Seeed and Mouser Electronics, though the latter cites an 11-week lead time beyond its initial stock.

Those hunting for a Raspberry Pi CM4 board might consider Ars commenter MightyPez’s advice to keep an eye on Pi stock monitor Rpilocator, which offers RSS feeds. You can even set up push notifications with Rpilocator’s official Python script.

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