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Prospecting the Coming Automotive Revolution

Stewart Wills


One of the four core themes of the 2017 Frontiers in Optics meeting—optics and photonics in the automotive sector—was fully on display on the Tuesday morning of the conference.

Kicking off the day in a plenary talk, Jason Eichenholz, the cofounder and CTO of Luminar Technologies, USA, took audience members on a tour of the advanced lidar technologies necessary to make the autonomous-vehicle dream a reality. And Eichenholz joined two other attendees, Anthony McDaniel, with the technical staff of Sandia National Laboratories, and John D’Ambrosia, the chair of The Ethernet Alliance, in a spirited discussion of the promise of, and challenges for, cutting-edge automotive technology.
From “feet-off” to “mind-off” systems
In his plenary talk, Eichenholz noted that the answer to the question “when will we have self-driving cars” depends on the specifics of the question. “Self-driving” can mean anything from “feet-off” vehicles in which the car’s systems handle basic acceleration and braking without human intervention, all the way to fully automated (“mind-off”) systems or even completely autonomous vehicles with no driver at all. Eichenholz’s company, Luminar, is, he said, focusing on the latter two schemes, evoking a vision of future vehicles that can, by any reasonable measure, completely drive themselves at least as well as humans can—and eventually far better.

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