This new lidar sensor could equip every autonomous car in the world by the end of 2018

A new lidar sensor could equip thousands of driverless cars with the sensing abilities required to drive at high speeds on the open road.

Lidar has become the primary way most driverless cars sense the world around them, bouncing laser light off nearby objects to create 3-D maps of their surroundings.

For years, the industry leader in lidar has been Velodyne, which builds some of the most expensive ultrahigh-resolution sensors available. But the rapid advance of research on self-driving vehicles prompted other firms to start building them too—among them a startup called Luminar, which was set up by Stanford dropout Austin Russell and came out of stealth last year.

Luminar’s technology is different from other lidar systems. It uses a longer wavelength of light to operate at higher power, allowing it to see darker objects over longer distances. It’s also able to zoom in on areas of specific interest.