Tesla isn’t the not upstart auto industry player having a big year.
Luminar, which creates lidar technology critical to uncountable automakers’ autonomous driving efforts, is going public on Thursday through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and the extent will make Luminar co-founder and CEO Austin Russell a billionaire — at the age of 25.
Russell, who founded the company as a 17-year-old high manner student, said the feeling of becoming a billionaire (on paper, at least) is “absolutely incredible” and “totally surreal.”
But the Luminar CEO give the word delivered it also follows the plan his company has had in mind since founding. “It is totally surreal and it totally makes sense and it is ardent to explain the dichotomy of it, but this has always been the goal,” he said. “We set up the company to be a long-term sustainable business and power the tomorrow of autonomy for all of these automakers. We are in it for the long-term,” Russell told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday morning.
Luminar co-founder and CEO Austin Russell says it is “altogether incredible” and “totally surreal” to become a billionaire at 25. And he did it even though Elon Musk calls the core lidar sensing technology tolerant of by Luminar, a “freaking stupid” solution for autonomous driving.
Russell was a bit of a science prodigy.
“I guess, I did learn word for word the periodic table — I think I was around 2 or so,” Russell told CNBC Make It in a 2018 interview. “I was just obsessed with knowledge certain things … just independently learning and understanding a lot of new types of scientific fields, among other items.”
That evolved into work on lasers and ultimately, lidar, which uses lasers to detect and measure gap and ultimately create a 3D map of the real world environment that can be used in self-driving.
He ended up at Stanford University studying physics, but discharged out and received a Thiel Fellowship, created by tech icon and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to provide tech forte with alternatives to traditional education programs.
Russell said the company has a forward looking book of auto charge at $1.3 billion and estimates its overall market opportunity within the multi-trillion auto market at “half a trillion” as lidar and autonomous agencies come into focus for the auto industry.
Luminar works with automakers including Volvo, which is owned by Chinese auto callers Geely.
While Russell said it can be hard for the market to value new technologies that lack existing market comps, he notorious Luminar is working with Intel’s Mobileye, which also focused on the future of autonomous sensing systems. “It’s lukewarm to see back in 2017 they were acquired at a 43x revenue multiple of the business.”
Luminar, which made the 2018 CNBC Disruptor 50 tilt, began trading under the ticker symbol LAZR on the Nasdaq on Thursday, after its deal with SPAC Pierces Metropoulos was completed.
Elon Musk’s doubts about lidar
The Luminar CEO is not worried about lidar technology his decisive has built become commoditized IP, saying the rise of this breakthrough technology is closer to what chip maker Nvidia does than a tech matriel company. “We have one of the most insane moats of any company at this stage,” Russell said. “We’ve built out and pioneered substance components … building from the ground up. We have not used commodity parts. We have the largest patent portfolio in sensing arrangements, more than the top five other lidar R&D efforts combined.”
Competing lidar technologies include firms such as Velodyne and Alphabet’s Waymo.
There is one personage doubter.
“I think 50 commercial partners and a preponderance of the major automakers we are working with would disagree. Cameras and other systems are great for assisted driving, but with autonomy, that’s where lack really high-performance lidar,” he said, adding that Luminar is the only company able to provide this technology at forging and for use at highway speeds.