Unicorn Startup Funding News in Orlando
Huge news for Orlando coming out of the autonomous vehicle industry this week. Luminar Technologies, an autonomous vehicle LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor startup with its design and manufacturing facility in Orlando, announced a $100M VC investment round.
We first reported on Luminar Technologies back in April 2017 when they came out of stealth mode and announced they had previously raised $36M in seed funding from Canvas Ventures, GVA Capital, and the 1517 Fund - a venture fund backed by Peter Thiel. Luminar was started in Silicon Valley in 2012 by then 17 year old high school student Austin Russell. Jason Eichenholz, a photonics entrepreneur with deep Central Florida roots, joined the effort as cofounder and CTO and convinced the VCs that Orlando was the best place in the US for LiDAR engineering talent (Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, UCF, Harris, and NASA) - so he and Scott Faris, another longtime Orlando entrepreneur and now Luminar's Chief Business Officer, built Luminar's design and manufacturing facility in the Central Florida Research Park next to UCF.
This new round of funding, from G2VP, Moore Strategic Ventures LLC, Nick Woodman, The Westly Group, 1517 Fund / Peter Thiel, Canvas Ventures, Corning Incorporated, Cornes, and Volvo Cars Tech Fund, at a company valuation of $900 million (oh so close to a $1 billion unicorn status), brings total Luminar funding to $250 million.
Luminar went a different direction than other LiDAR startups, using expensive non-industry standard military-grade laser and detector components operating at a longer wavelength of 1550 nm. Its detector requires expensive indium gallium phosphide detectors instead of silicon to detect this wavelength. But this longer wavelength is "eye-safe" and allows for more power than rival systems which means higher resolution and longer detection distance. The VC investment has allowed Luminar to bring InGaAs chip design and production in-house and reduce the cost of their receiver, called Iris, to less than $500. In their press release on BusinessWire, Luminar said: "This capital accelerates Luminar’s foray into the consumer and commercial series production vehicle markets. Iris represents the next major milestone in the industry, just over a year after Luminar introduced its sensor for autonomous development fleets, and two years after the company first unveiled its breakthrough LiDAR technology, built from the chip-level up, as it came out of stealth in 2017. Today, 12 of the world’s top 15 automotive companies are working with Luminar’s sensing platform as part of global self-driving development programs to ultimately deliver on the promise of safe and ubiquitous autonomous transportation. Iris is slated to launch commercially on production vehicles beginning in 2022, and is the first sensing platform to exceed the essential performance, safety, cost and auto-grade requirements needed to deliver Level 3 and 4 autonomy to consumers".
Congratulations to the Luminar team for achieving this technical and business success and to Jason and Scott for making it happen here in Orlando!