Photo/Illutration Nissan Motor Co.’s prototype automobile equipped with a LiDAR unit stops after detecting a pedestrian model on April 18 in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Junichi Kamiyama)

Automakers are competing to lower costs for next-generation, high-performance sensors that are expected to make self-driving vehicles much safer on the streets.

The new technology, called a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system, uses laser light to precisely scan the shapes and locations of objects surrounding the vehicle.

LiDAR has been called the “eye” for automatically operated cars because the technology’s cognitive capability is higher than those of cameras and conventional radar sensors, which are based on radio waves.

“All automakers will want to use it (LiDAR) because it can prevent accidents that may still occur with existing technologies,” said Kazuo Shimizu, a journalist knowledgeable about automatically operated automobiles. “One hurdle to widespread use will be how to cut production costs while ensuring the system’s safety.”

One LiDAR device can cost more than 1 million yen ($7,700) to produce.

On April 25, Nissan Motor Co. announced it will start equipping its vehicles with LiDAR in 2025 and plans to have the new sensors in almost all new models by 2030.

Nissan is working with Luminar Technologies Inc., a U.S. startup, to develop a highly accurate LiDAR that can detect things 300 meters or more ahead.

They said their technology can reproduce the forms and positions of obstacles with the precision seen in data prepared for 3-D printers.

Its computational control feature has also been improved to enable LiDAR-equipped vehicles to instantly respond to events transpiring over wide area, they said.

Although high-precision maps are necessary for driverless vehicles to run correct routes, the LiDAR device will allow automobiles to operate even in unmapped zones by accurately identifying their locations.

Nissan on April 18 held a demonstration of its LiDAR-equipped test vehicle in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. The car featured a LiDAR unit on its roof as well as seven radars and 10 cameras to improve its data-collecting accuracy.

When another automobile jutted out from a road shoulder, the trial model shifted to the right lane to avoid the danger. It also stopped safely when a pedestrian suddenly appeared.

LiDAR also recognized a distant wooden pallet on the road and automatically changed lanes.

“The vehicle’s LiDAR instantly recognizes objects, enabling it to simultaneously deal with multiple developments,” a Nissan representative said.

Many other enterprises, including Sony Group Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Denso Corp., affiliated with Toyota Motor Corp., have begun developing LiDAR.

Since more than 1 million yen is needed to make a standard LiDAR unit, the system has so far been adopted only for pricey models.

Toyota put LiDAR on its luxury model Lexus and the Mirai fuel cell vehicle.

Honda Motor Co. installed five LiDAR unit on the self-driving Legend sedan, which costs 11 million yen after tax. Production of the Legend ended late last year.

Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Inc. is not relying on LiDAR. Instead, it is refining a camera-based mechanism to scan the surroundings.