Meet Austin Russell, the World’s (new) Youngest Billionaire

At 12-years-old, Austin Russell solved the problem of not having his own cell phone in a unique way: he built one using only a Nintendo DS, the Internet and his incredible mind (Orange County Register). “I guess, I did memorize the periodic table – I think I was around 2 or so,” says Austin. If that doesn’t impress you enough, at 17, Austin was spending his spare time researching laser optic technology and watching online lectures by Stanford University (which he later attended as a Physics major). He also dreamed of having his own company.

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.

In a conference he perfectly showcased how what other companies are doing with their laser sensors is not enough; even the most intelligent programmes are not that advanced and so can be the cause of accidents according to Austin. For instance, the best performing system can only detect objects 40 meters ahead which, when you are speeding on the highway, translates to only a second in advance.

This is why Austin decided that a new approach was needed and with Luminar, he rebuilt the system from scratch. His radar is incredibly powerful, with a range 10 times higher than the best programmes out there. Thanks to this programme says Austin, ‘the car could see further than humans’.

The young billionaire brings a fresh wave of ideas to the futuristic car industry, on his mission to “make autonomy as safe and ubiquitous as possible”.

We can’t wait to see more of his projects!

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