Mercedes Expands Autonomous Driving Program with Luminar
- Mercedes and Luminar are officially joining forces to usher in a widespread rollout of Mercedes’ Level 3 Autonomous Drive Pilot system.
- Striking a multi-million dollar deal, Luminar will provide an updated version of its recently released Iris lidar system in order to integrate it within a broad sampling of the Mercedes fleet by mid-decade.
- Specifically, the updated lidar will help Mercedes to provide Drive Pilot users with faster hands-free highway speeds and better calibration in urban driving.
After solidifying its partnerships with Volvo and Polestar, Luminar is now joining forces with Mercedes-Benz to provide lidar technology for nearly its entire fleet. Based out of Orlando, Florida, Luminar has taken the automotive industry by storm with its Iris lidar system, with major automakers now in seemingly long-term deals with the technology company.
Now, thanks to its newly announced partnership with Mercedes-Benz, Luminar will play a pivotal role in shaping Mercedes’ consumer-facing autonomous technologies.
Specifically, Luminar and Mercedes will jointly plan to integrate the next generation of Luminar’s Iris lidar across a broad range of Mercedes products.
The Stuttgart automaker says this integration should be finished by mid-decade, with the goal of adding redundancy to the company’s new conditionally automated driving system, known by the name of Drive Pilot, in order to operate at higher speeds on freeways and in more urban areas. Mercedes says the design and engineering of its advanced driver-assistance systems are greatly simplified by choosing Luminar as its main lidar provider.
With just a few top-of-the-line models equipped with Mercedes’ SAE Level 3 autonomous system, the company aims to expand these advanced safety features to more of its lineup. Given the regulatory and functional difficulties in rolling out a true Level 3 system, Mercedes is likely counting on this multi-million-dollar deal with Luminar to streamline the development costs and regulatory inspections.
“In a first step, we have introduced a Level 3 system in our top line models. Next, we want to implement advanced automated driving features on a broader scale within our portfolio,” said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG and Chief Technology Officer, Development & Procurement. “I am convinced that Luminar is a great partner to help realize our vision and roadmap for automated and accident-free driving.”
But what exactly does Luminar’s Iris lidar system do? In an interview with Autoweek late last year, Luminar Founder and CEO Austin Russell explained what goes into state-of-the-art lidar and how Luminar’s system differs from others.
Simply put, the Iris lidar system transmits unusually long waves of laser light which is then reflected from nearby objects. Luminar’s numerical threshold for wavelength is 1550 nanometers, significantly above the typical 905 nanometers found on early automotive lidar systems from companies like OSRAM.
Because of this long wavelength, Luminar claims its technology is more capable of identifying and coordinating an appropriate response to smaller or dark-colored objects, at a distance as far as 250 meters away.
What does this technology mean for the future of accident-free roads?
“Everyone so far has been trying to automate everything. And so far, you try and get this autonomous functionality, and you’re saying the human should take over whenever the computer makes a mistake,” Russell explains.
“It should be the complete opposite, it should be the complete inverse. The autonomous system should jump in when you’re driving, and whenever you make a mistake. And that’s where the value is because it gets you out of that accident situation. The universe that other people have all been racing toward doesn’t actually solve anything—that doesn’t solve accidents, it doesn’t do anything.”
Working with Mercedes, it seems that Russell’s ideal of human habits and machine learning systems blending to build joint situational awareness may come true. With the ADAS technology monitoring the human driver and learning mile-by-mile, the eyes-off approach of a proper Level 3 autonomous system could finally come to fruition in a wide range of Mercedes vehicles.
Early impressions of Mercedes’ Drive Pilot system show smooth and reliable but limited use-ability, so the new technology should mean more models benefiting from enhanced technology available on more roads at higher speeds and with more human-like behaviors.
Luminar’s pact with Mercedes mirrors its deals with Polestar and Volvo, both of which are set on rolling out their own proprietary Level 3 autonomous systems. That said, neither company has committed to a date for the completion of this technology, meaning Mercedes expects to be the only manufacturer to roll out a true Level 3 system in the US. Going forward, however, it’s likely that we’ll see manufacturers such as Polestar and even companies with deep investments in Level 2 systems like General Motors and Ford push for a rapid rollout of Level 3 systems.
Are you looking forward to using Level 3 autonomous systems? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below.