LiDAR systems, which measure distance to objects with a pulsing laser light, have been around for decades, but most autonomous cars are still using the same hardware they were ten years ago. Russell says that's because developers have been "throwing software engineers at a hardware problem", which is why he decided to build everything from lasers to processors from scratch. His system operates at a new wavelength of light - 1,550 rather than 905 nanometres - so Russell says its range is ten times farther and its resolution 50 times higher than the most advanced systems.
This means it can see 200 metres ahead, giving the car seven seconds to react to an obstacle when travelling at standard speeds. Current LiDARs have to use a separate laser for each line of resolution ("normally you'd need 64 different lasers and receivers"), whereas Luminar's requires only one to create an almost 3D map. So, not only can it collect better data, but it's also far cheaper to make.