Volvo Invests In 6 Year Old Startup Whose CEO Is 23 Years Old

A firm named Luminar, which is a little more than 7 years old and whose founder was barely legal to get a driver’s license while when founding the startup, finds itself at the centre of the growing self-driving car industry.

Luminar offers acritical sensors for self-driving cars and the latest automaker to team up with it is Volvo. Toyota is among its other customers.

Similar to radar but using a laser, LIDAR, a sensor for autonomous vehicles, is manufactured by Luminar. Self-driving cars are able to “see” and understand their surroundings with this instrument.

Car crashes can be a thing of the past and millions of lives can be saved by this new technology, say its advocates. Experts are also of the view that the next huge global business could be the self-driving cars which would run into trillions of dollars.

And when that day arrives, Austin Russell – the 23-year-old Luminar CEO, would be playing a crucial part.

A different wavelength compared to the general industry was used for its LIDAR by Russell’s startup. This resulted in LIDAR being able to see dark objects on a road — like shredded tires 200 meters away. A spokesperson said that Toyota got interested in the startup because of these smaller details.

The startup has also impressed investors. Before Volvo’s investment, $36 million had already been raised by Luminar even though details of the investments are not available.

There are currently over 350 employees in the startup. And to cater to the increasing demand for self-driving technology, the firm anticipates that its production capacity of LIDAR systems would reach 5,000 units eve4ry quarter by the end of the year at its Orlando, Florida, plant.

Russell says he always strives to take the company forward and sometimes works for 120 hours a week. but Saturday’s are must have off days when he not only unwinds but also reflects on the bigger picture.

“There’s times where it’s just me being in the zone, and the next thing I know, I’ve just walked five to 10 miles,” Russell said in the television interview.

Russel has gained knowledge from listening to MIT and Stanford lectures available online where he even sped them up to learn things faster. He also spent hours reading Wikipedia articles.

He started off his business by setting up a lab for his lasers in the garage of his parent’s home.  “‘You just do your black magic,'” joked Russell, alluding to what his parents must have thought. “‘We’ll slip food under the door.'”

He got connected to Jason Eichenholz, an accomplished entrepreneur in the field of lasers at the age of 15, aided by his parents.

Eichenholz was the cofounder of Luminar along with Russel who dropped out of Stanford University where he had got himself enrolled to study applied physics.

“We joke we discovered 2,000 ways not to build a LIDAR system,” Eichenholz said.

“You can see him grow on a monthly basis,” Eichenholz said of Russell. “The way he carries himself. The way he can be out there talking to the industry but also being able to try and define where he wants the company to grow.”

(Adapted from

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