A self-driving car in every driveway? Solid-state lidar is the key

Ever noticed how self-driving cars end up wearing some weird hats?

The earliest self-driving military trucks looked like they had spinning coffee cans up top. Carnegie Mellon’s iconic self-driving Hummer was topped by a giant ping-pong ball. Waymo’s smiley little prototype wears a siren-shaped dome that makes it look like the world’s most adorable police car…

But a new technology is popping up everywhere this year: solid-state lidar. With no moving parts, it promises to give self-driving cars sharper, better vision, at a fraction the cost of old-school, electromechanical systems. Solid-state lidar will pave the way for the first self-driving cars you can actually afford. Here’s how it works — and what’s just around the corner.