Volvo and its Silicon Valley-based partner Luminar announced a breakthrough lidar system that should help both companies make Level 4 self-driving cars a reality sooner.

Lidar is the essential component that many automakers and technology companies have employed to give a self-driving car sight. The technology allows the self-driving car to see the world around it, and until now, lidar only gave the vehicles a view about 130 feet away. Luminar's new system has upped the figure to 820 feet. The extra distance will give a self-driving car the ability to see 7.5 seconds ahead of itself.

What's the benefit? The car can operate at high speeds if it's able to see much farther ahead of itself. Not only can it see further ahead, but the lidar is incredibly precise. The system can pick out human poses, interpret movements, and even provide and detect details such as human limbs.

Volvo Luminar next-generation lidar

Volvo Luminar next-generation lidar

Volvo invested in Luminar earlier this year. The new partnership gives Volvo access to Luminar's lidar systems as it continues work on its self-driving car programs. Both companies want to bring self-driving cars to market with safety at the forefront. And the latest lidar system could make it happen on time.

The brand plans to launch the next-generation XC90 SUV with Level 4 self-driving capability. On the SAE autonomy scale, Level 4 means the car can handle all driving in certain conditions, but a steering wheel and pedals remain for the driver to take over outside of those conditions. The scale tops out at Level 5, which is full autonomy. Luminar believes the latest lidar unit will enter production in 2021, which would be in time to fit the XC90 with the self-driving capability.

In China, Volvo has also partnered with Baidu to develop a self-driving car for the Chinese market. The plan is to mass produce the cars in China for sale to fleets as well as individuals. Timing wasn't mentioned but the companies confirmed the cars will be battery-electric vehicles with Level 4 self-driving capability.