Autonomous Lidar Vehicle Designer is Legally Blind

Photo of Autonomous Lidar Engineer Nico Gentry

Autonomous Lidar Engineer Nico Gentry

Nico Gentry has always loved cars. “I wanted so badly to get my permit and eventually my driver’s license,” the 25-year-old manufacturing engineer from Orlando, Florida, told me in a recent phone call. But a neurological disorder called nystagmus that affects his eyes means he’s been legally blind since birth, so he decided to get involved with autonomous lidar.

From an artice in Mashable by Sasha Lekach.

Instead of learning to drive, when he was just 14 he helped his dad build a 1970 Mustang — what he calls his dream car. “I wanted to drive my dream car. But I realized I wouldn’t be able to do that,” he said.

Last year, Gentry and his dad —who is also an engineer — built a custom electric bicycle that he can use to get around, since he can still partially see — just not enough to safely drive a car. The bike is one of the “little hacks,” as he calls them, that’s important for his mobility independence. Plus it beats pedaling to work on a cheap bicycle with no electric boost.

But Gentry is taking things even further with his job in the autonomous car industry, where “they’re building the eyes for cars,” as he put it. He works at a LiDAR company called Luminar. LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging; it’s a sensor technology that uses light to measure distance and detect objects, and it’s often called the “eyes” of self-driving cars, a comparison Gentry understands too well.

With a background in supply-chain management and an ongoing interest in computer science, he’s all about building the parts that make autonomous vehicles work. But his mission is personal, too, and not just for himself. After his close friend, who was narcoleptic, was killed in a car crash in college, Gentry became more committed to making autonomous vehicles a reality. “If computers and robots were driving, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said of his friend’s fatal crash.

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