Luminar, which creates lidar technology critical to many automakers’ autonomous driving efforts, is going public on Thursday through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and the deal will make Luminar co-founder and CEO Austin Russell a billionaire — at the age of 25.
Russell, who founded the company as a 17-year-old high school student, said the feeling of becoming a billionaire (on paper, at least) is “absolutely incredible” and “totally surreal.”
Russell was a bit of a science prodigy.
“I guess, I did memorize the periodic table — I think I was around 2 or so,” Russell told CNBC Make It in a 2018 interview. “I was just obsessed with learning certain things … just independently learning and understanding a lot of new types of scientific fields, among other things.”
That evolved into work on lasers and ultimately, lidar, which uses lasers to detect and measure distance and ultimately create a 3D map of the real world environment that can be used in self-driving.
He ended up at Stanford University studying physics, but dropped out and received a Thiel Fellowship, created by tech icon and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to provide tech talent with alternatives to traditional education programs.