Luminar, a newly public maker of laser lidar sensors that help self-driving cars see their surroundings, has hired Tesla’s acting general counsel Alan Prescott as chief legal officer. It’s a somewhat ironic move since there’s no bigger critic of lidar technology than his former boss, Tesla CEO Elon Musk
The Palo Alto, California-based company which listed shares on Nasdaq in late 2020 and is led by optics prodigy Austin Russell, said that in addition to Prescott, it’s added Trey Campbell, Intel’s vice president of investor relations, to lead that role at Luminar.
Prescott “understands the challenges and nuances of operating in both the autonomous driving space and in the automotive industry more broadly, and we look forward to his insights and expertise as we continue to scale our business and accelerate the expansion of our product and commercial roadmaps,” Russell said.
Luminar is preparing to ramp up production of its high-tech devices after lining up supply deals with partners including Volvo Cars, Daimler Trucks and China’s SAIC for its new R brand electric vehicles. Lidar’s ability to create 3D “point-cloud” maps by bouncing laser beams off surrounding objects adds a critical layer of safety to vision systems, including cameras and radar, that every major developer of autonomous vehicle technology relies on, with one notable exception.
Tesla’s outspoken leader, who recently said the company’s electric vehicles would jettison radar and rely entirely on cameras for its controversially named Full Self-Driving feature, has called lidar a “fool’s errand.” They are “expensive sensors that are unnecessary,” he told analysts at a Tesla briefing in April 2019. “It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices. One appendix is bad, now we’ll put on a whole bunch of them. That’s ridiculous. You’ll see.”
Prescott’s departure from Tesla comes as U.S. transportation safety regulators have opened investigations of multiple crashes to determine if its partially automated Autopilot feature was engaged when those accidents occurred, including a recent fatal collision in Houston.
“Luminar has pioneered safety-critical technology that will power our autonomous future,” said Prescott, who also led legal affairs for Uber’s former Advanced Technology Group. “As someone who’s dedicated my career to automotive safety and innovation, I’m looking forward to helping drive Luminar to the next level and fulfill the mission to make transportation safer for everyone.”
Luminar shares rose 17% to $19.20 in Nasdaq trading Wednesday at 12:29 p.m. New York time.