Luminar, a leading maker of laser lidar for self-driving and semi-automated vehicles, has been accused of passing off a competitor’s next-generation chip design as its own technology after showing an image of the processor at a recent investor conference and in materials on your website. Lidwave, the Israeli startup making the claim, says it plans to take legal action over the matter.
The image, identified as a photonic integrated circuit by Luminar at its Feb. 28 conference and webcast, without reference to Lidwave, appears identical to a chip on Lidwave’s website that is its core technology. The Jerusalem-based company sent a cease-and-desist letter to Luminar on March 14, asking it to remove the image. It also notified the Securities and Exchange Commission of Luminar’s “misuse of product image to falsely advertise its capabilities and securities to investors.”
Lidwave said it had not heard back from the company by 3pm New York time on Friday. The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
“Integrated photonics allows lidar to become as scalable and profitable as anyone has imagined… But surprisingly, the picture presented by Luminar of a photonic integrated circuit as their solution is not their solution, but basically the exact image of our lidar,” the executive Lidwave director Yehuda Vidal said Forbes. “We will proceed with a lawsuit if necessary because this is a very big issue for us. Some of our customers are very confused about what we do versus what they do.”
The image appeared during a presentation by Mike McAuliffe, head of Luminar’s semiconductor team. The full Luminar Day webcast on YouTube has nearly 750,000 views. “The host could not confirm the original source of the image, but we are replacing it,” said company spokesperson Milin Mehta Forbes.
The company did not respond to Lidwave’s other claims. The image of the chip remains in the Luminar presentation and YouTube video at the time of publication.
Lidar’s ability to create detailed 3D maps of a vehicle’s surroundings using lasers has made it a key technology in the race to perfect self-driving cars and trucks. But it’s also relatively expensive, with individual units costing thousands of dollars each. Luminar, which has high-volume supply agreements with automakers including Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Nissan, Polestar, China’s SAIC and truck maker Daimler, is poised to be the biggest supplier of the technology by slashing costs over the coming years. years.
Over the past five years, Orlando-based Luminar, created by optics prodigy (i.e Forbes 30 Under 30) Fellow Austin Russell has moved from one of dozens of lidar startups competing to challenge Velodyne, the first company to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology, to the de facto industry leader in terms of the number of vehicles that will use its sensors. Russell said Forbes last month that it intends to put Luminar lidar in “millions of vehicles on the road within a few years.”
Processing huge amounts of data collected by laser sensors requires increasingly powerful chips that must also be cheaper and easier to manufacture. Lidwave’s Vidal said that’s exactly what his company, which was founded in 2019 and hopes to start commercial deliveries in 2024, is working to perfect.
“The main problem holding back large-scale adoption of lidar is its cost, resulting from the highly complex micro-precision assembly. There is no lidar manufacturer today that has definitively solved the economy of scale (manufacturing) challenge,” he said. “The photonic integrated chip platform is really the Holy Grail for lidar.”