Photo by Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

Curiosity & Inspiring Innovation

On December 3rd, Luminar Technologies, a company that develops sensors and software for passenger vehicles and trucks, went public.

The Autonomy Solutions segment of the company designs, manufactures, and sells LiDAR(light detection and ranging) sensors, and the related perception and autonomy software solutions necessary in utilizing such sensors. This technology is likely to be critical in the progress towards automated vehicles (despite the dismissal of this fact by some other large players in this space), and for many reasons, may be one of the most important quality of life improvements to come in the next several decades.

For those of you who doubt the extent that such an innovation would bring, consider the following positive impacts:

  • Efficiency — when vehicles can communicate with each other, they can coordinate. While the impact of this may not be immediately recognizable, realize that traffic lights are essentially rules-based coordinating devices for drivers. Were public thoroughfares to, at some point down the road (forgive the pun), opt out of allowing humans to operate vehicles in favor of AI-supported machines, the need for such coordinating devices would be eliminated. CGP Grey illustrates this point very well.
    The effect of this would be reduced time to destinations. Time is money, but more importantly, time is your life.
  • Productivity — in reducing time to destinations, all travelers would have more time to focus their attention towards areas that are fruitful. A person who once took their important phone calls as they drove would also be able to dedicate all of their attention to the conversation without putting lives at risk by diverting their attention from the road.
  • Environmental — this ties on to efficiency, and may be a bit more of a controversial opinion. When vehicles are directed by machines that function closer to optimum than humans, decisions made have the potential to reduce greenhouse emissions, as striving for optimum energy consumption for whatever task at hand can be a directive.
  • Wellness — arguably the most important impact that such innovation would bring: significantly reduced incidents of injuries and fatalities on roadways, not to mention a reduction of stress and other factors that impact our health.

The fact that panic, sleep deprivation, inebriation, and road rage play no factor in the performance of machines operating on logical processes suggests that the above impacts would be a certainty.

That isn’t to say that there would be no drawbacks or negative public reaction. Back in 2017, the Teamsters union celebrated the omission of self-driving trucks from legislation aimed at accelerating the deployment of autonomous vehicles. In 2019, 947,000 people in the US were truck drivers by occupation. One could imagine a similar reaction or worse among vehicle operators in many other industries. Also, any accidents that occur due to poor systems, faulty mechanisms, or unforeseen circumstances on the road, could potentially result in a reactive public outcry that inhibits progress in the sector, even if the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle resulted in no such excessive public response.

This is all an aside to get to what is the heart of my thesis. Innovations in tech enhance quality of life. These innovations require creative minds to foresee both obstacles to their acceptance, and consequences of their implementation.

On January 29, together with Volvo Cars, Luminar Technologies released the Cirrus dataset for the public community of developers and data professionals, with the stated intent to encourage research in algorithm development for long range LiDAR detection and classification.

Luminar’s proprietary sensor data visualization

For those who don’t feel the spark of inspiration related to this specific future-bridging technology, I encourage you to reflect on what innovations activate your inspiration, and explore what tools you might be able to access. It could be a desire to improve the lives of people in your life who suffer with diabetes, to which I suggest experimenting with the API of available data for Dexcom’s continuous glucose monitors. Alternatively, maybe you have an interest in health and nutrition more generally, to which you could explore the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s FoodData Central API. These, of course, are simple suggestions, and the extent of what one might explore is limited more by one’s curiosity, than one’s technical capabilities.

We are fortunate to be living in an age of information, where more information than any individual would be able to consume in a lifetime is equitably accessible to those able to connect to the internet. Evaluation and analysis of data for a technology that one is unfamiliar with may seem intimidating, but surely there are no members of the public more capable than those who have a curiosity for data.

Licensing for Cirrus Dataset

1. Luminar Technologies, Inc. is the sole and exclusive owner of this dataset.
2. The dataset is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
3. Any public use, distribution, display of this data set must contain this notice in its entirety.



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