The founder of autonomous driving firm Luminar drives… a McLaren Elva | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September
Future Tech

The founder of autonomous driving firm Luminar drives… a McLaren Elva

And he reckons autonomous tech can make supercars MORE fun. Driving for pleasure is saved!

Published: 14 Nov 2022

Few phrases fill the average petrolhead with more dread than ‘autonomous driving’. Especially as the future of driving for the sheer thrill of it is already under threat with electrification eroding away at manuals, lightness and noise all at once.

And last week we’ve learned that the steering wheel and pedals - our two remaining touchpoints with the car - could also meet a sticky end when driverless tech really begins to bite. Eep.

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However, we bring you some reassuring (and lightly amusing) news: Austin Russell, the founder of the industry-leading lidar firm Luminar and a man very much involved in the pioneerment (is that a word?) of autonomous vehicles is very much a car nut himself. And not only that, he thinks self-driving tech can actually make supercars and the like even more fun than they are now. Rejoice!

“I am absolutely a driving enthusiast, a hundred per cent,” he quietly divulged to TG at the reveal of the Volvo EX90 in Stockholm. “It’s funny: I actually enjoy driving. I like driving.

“The interesting part around all of this is that everyone thinks performance cars and autonomy are in two opposite ends of the spectrum. But the reality is that [if lidar] can understand everything going on around you, it can allow you to safely push the limits of the car without throwing yourself off the road.

“That’s part of the core problem. And why I think we’ll even see this technology on supercars and other things in the future, not just normal consumer production vehicles.”

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Okay, we’re feeling a bit better about the whole self-driving thing knowing that arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the field (Russell took Luminar public in 2020 and is now a billionaire because of it) gets that cars shouldn’t all be soulless transportation boxes.

So having made a not-insignificant amount of dollar from a business he started in 2012 as a 17-year-old, what does the autonomous driving chief drive day-to-day himself?

“I’m on two extreme ends," he says. "Okay, so I’ll have stuff like the EQS, that’s a great new EV. That’s awesome and is a foreshadow for what we’re [Luminar] doing with Mercedes.

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“Then I’ll go at the extreme other end, like a McLaren Elva. No windshield, no anything, just a raw driving experience. With the racing helmet on!”

And where does the Elva get used? “So usually in Florida, and out of Orlando and sometimes LA. Or I take it out to a track or something.”

Maybe driving for the hell of it will survive as a hobby after all…

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