Then one day in 2012, the young entrepreneur won a $100,000 grant from the Thiel Fellowship - a programme funded by billionaire Peter Thiel (a co-founder of Paypal) - to nurture the outstanding tech talent of students. Austin was one of the lucky 20 to be selected for the programme and once he received his share, he immediately dropped out of Stanford, mid-degree, to found his start-up: Luminar Technologies.
“I always knew academia wasn’t going to be the right route for this,” he said, “Because if you really want to make a huge impact in the world, being stuck in a given lab is not the right way to do it." (FOXBusiness)
Now 26, Austin was recently crowned the world’s youngest self-made billionaire on the Forbeslist, after his company went public in December of 2020, offering shares on Nasdaq. “It’s been insane, everything, every day that we’ve had to go through, scaling this up. And of course it’s incredibly rewarding to have an opportunity to be able to get out there now and get into the public markets,” says Austin (MarketWatch). He now owns 104.7 million shares of Luminar, which are worth over $3 billion.
What is ‘Luminar Technologies’ exactly?
As Austin explains, Luminar produces new types of LIDAR (acronym for light, detection and ranging) sensors that allow autonomous vehicles to “see and understand the world around them.” Now if, like me, you don’t have a Physics background, you might be a bit confused about what this means exactly. In simpler terms: LIDAR sensors are basically radars (made with lasers) that exist in the eyes of new self-driving cars. They allow the cars to “see” every object and person around them so that they can adapt to their surroundings. Austin believes that his technology has the potential to save lives once incorporated into the advanced driver-assistance systems that many companies, like Volvo and Toyota, are bringing to market in the near future.