Tech Updates

LiDAR accelerates vehicle automation and smart city roll outs

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released its 2020 annual traffic crash data, showing that 2020 had the highest number of fatalities since 2007. 

In 45% of fatal crashes, the drivers of passenger vehicles were engaged in at least one of the following risky behaviors: speeding, alcohol impairment, or not wearing a seat belt. 

These activities require action and decision by the driver — to drink, forgo a seatbelt, or put their foot on the pedal. If you ever wanted a good reason to expedite the introduction of autonomous vehicles, this is pretty much it. 

Yet creating self-driving cars is far trickier in reality than concept. They need an array of advanced tech to make sense of the world around them, including sensors, cameras, and radar.

But, perhaps, the most critical tool of all is LiDAR.

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR is an acronym for “light detection and ranging.”

NASA initially developed LiDAR in the 1970s for use in space. It uses laser beams to create 3D vision for a car’s computer and mechanics to make safe driving decisions. 


  • A typical LiDAR sensor emits pulsed light waves into the surrounding environment.
  • These pulses bounce off surrounding objects and return to the sensor.
  • The sensor uses the time it took for each pulse to return to the sensor to calculate the distance it traveled.

This process repeats millions of times per second and provides a vehicle with a high-resolution 3D view and map of its surroundings for safe navigation. This enables it to identify and navigate around objects within 300 meters (980 feet) of it in different lighting and weather conditions. 

LiDAR is used extensively in advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in cars, ebikes, trucks, and delivery robots, as well as fully autonomous vehicles. It’s instrumental in functional activities like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping, emergency braking, and pedestrian detection.