Tesla, whose boss Elon Musk says he can develop a fully self-driving car without using laser sensor technology, has a contract to use such sensors from Luminar Technologies for testing and development, according to people familiar with the matter.
A photo of a Tesla Model Y with a roof rack with lidar sensors posted to Twitter on Thursday sparked speculation that the companies were collaborating, pushing the shares of Orlando, Florida-based Luminar up by more than 10% that day. While similar images of Tesla’s with lidar sensors have appeared on social media before, it was unclear what the relationship is between Tesla and Luminar.
Luminar sold Tesla the sensors on that Model Y as part of an agreement between the companies, some people said, asking for anonymity because the information is private. In addition, Bloomberg News confirmed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles that the manufacturer’s license plate is on the photographed Tesla vehicle. The same manufacturer’s license plate can also be found on other Tesla vehicles, including a prototype of the upcoming Cybertruck.
Luminar was up early in the trading day. A Luminar representative declined to comment. Multiple Tesla executives Bloomberg contacted did not respond to a request for comment. Tesla has closed its media relations department.
The Model Y with the sensors was spotted in Palm Beach, Florida around 8 a.m. Thursday by Grayson Brulte, an adviser to the autonomous auto industry who lives in the area. The photos he posted to Twitter sparked market speculation that Chief Executive Officer Musk could be backing up his claim that he can develop a camera-only self-propelled system, without the radar and laser sensors being embraced by competitors.
Spotted in Palm Beach, Florida. A @Tesla Model Y with #LiDAR and CA Manufacturing (MFG) plates. Can anyone provide details / insights? pic.twitter.com/5Uh4WU0U41
– Grayson Brulte (@gbrulte) May 20, 2021
Shares of Luminar made a whopping 9.8% gain to rise 4.7% from 9:44 a.m. in New York City to $ 22.42. The stock had rallied to its highest level in more than three weeks on May 20, and the ticker symbol, LAZR, was widely shared on Twitter in speculation that it had delivered the sensor suite.
It’s not clear what Tesla’s intentions are with Luminar’s lidar, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Tesla engineers could compare their camera-centric self-driving system to lidar; they could also test lidar for future use.
Any suggestion that Musk would change course to adopt lidar is unrealistic, said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Insights.
“The most likely scenario is that they use the Luminar lidars to validate their camera-based FSD system,” Abuelsamid said in an interview, using an acronym for fully self-driving. “If they made that change, it would actually depreciate their entire fleet. They are not going to retrofit a million vehicles. “
Lidar, which stands for light detection and range, is a key technology for the world’s leading car manufacturers, technology companies and startups racing to realize fully autonomous cars. Lidar uses lasers to build a three-dimensional image of the surrounding landscape, which is critical to how the vehicle perceives the environment, predicts the behavior of pedestrians and other vehicles, and plans how to navigate roads safely.
Musk was a lonely and loud voice saying lidar is not necessary.
“Lidar is a silly message,” he said during Tesla’s “Autonomy Day” to investors in April 2019. “Anyone who relies on lidar is doomed.”
Luminar, which was made public in a $ 3.4 billion reverse merger last year, has manufacturing agreements to supply lidar sensors to Volvo and flagship R brand SAIC Motor, China’s largest automaker.
More recently, Musk has toned down some of his public comments about lidar technology. Speaking at the Clubhouse audio chat room earlier this year, he admitted to talking about lidar and said that SpaceX – the rocket company that also runs Musk – has developed its own internal lidar to aid the SpaceX Dragon capsule. “Obviously, if I hated lidar, I wouldn’t have,” Musk said. “To drive on real roads, however, you have to solve vision and understand objects.”
During an earnings call last month, Musk suggested Tesla is also moving away from radar, which, along with lidar and cameras, is one of three technologies the industry has seen as critical sensor hardware needed to achieve a future of self-driving vehicles .
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas called this a bold and risky move. Jeff Osborne of Cowen & Co. went one step further, “We continue to question Tesla’s approach to vehicle automation,” he wrote in a note to customers. “We think this is unlikely to work.”
Tesla’s stock had changed little during early trading Monday at $ 581.12. From the closing Friday, the stock fell 18% this year.