Why does it matter?
The image of a constantly changing environment is critical for a selfdriving car as it allows it to see potential hazards, pedestrians and other road users, while enabling the vehicle to follow a course between static objects.
Not only can the technology establish where an object is, it can also tell what it is, which enables the car to more accurately determine if something is hazardous. Current systems allow accurate realtime detection of objects up to 250 metres away, which offers more time for a vehicle to react, while the detail of the digital image is unrivalled by any other technology with a similar range. Radar technology has a very long range but is only adept at sensing large objects. Camera technology has high detail sensitivity but a supporting system must use complex technology to interpret a 3D world from a 2D image, which gets harder at longer ranges.
LIDAR is a relative newcomer to the surveying tech world and requires significant research and development for autonomous applications. The cost per vehicle is still in the region of thousands of dollars and the systems have to be made more reliable, durable and scalable, but as the technology advances, LIDAR will be the cornerstone of true level four and five self-driving cars.