Volvo may not be showing any autos at the LA auto show, but that doesn't mean it won't show auto(-motive and -nomous) technology at the show. Along with its partner, Luminar, it has announced a breakthrough in LiDAR technology .

LiDAR is the hip new technology that pretty much everyone in the autonomous game thinks will make driverless cars possible-something Volvo is very interested in achieving, since it has promised that the third-gen XC90 (due in 2021) will be autonomous on the highway.

To do that, Volvo has tasked LiDAR luminaries, Luminar, with finding a way to allow cars to "see" reliably. That means seeing things at a distance with great accuracy.

While it's not particularly difficult to get LiDAR to see things at a great distance, it is (ironically) difficult to do that without searing retinas.

The problem with LiDAR is that most of the industry uses cheap and bountiful silicon receptors, which require 905 nanometer wavelength light. That's all well and good, but the light fades pretty quickly at levels that aren't dangerous to human eyes, which limits how far away the car can "see."

Luminar's innovation has been to use indium gallium arsenide receptors. That allows its LiDAR to use a 1550 nanometer wavelength light, which can be shone brighter without burning eyes, which in turn means that the system can see farther.

Up to 250 meters (820-odd feet), says Luminar's CEO, Austin Russel. By comparison, the LiDAR "Puck" that Ford is using only sees up to 100 m (330 feet), according to Velodyne , the company making them.

That means that the Volvo system can see 7.5 seconds down the road, and any good driver knows that you want to look as far down the road as possible. The receptor can also see in remarkable detail and can make out human shapes as well as things that absorb as much as 95% of light. So it can see just about anything not made of Vantablack.

All of which sounds great, but the problem has always been cost. Whereas silicon is cheap, indium gallium arsenide is very expensive. According to an article from April that appeared in Wired , a receptor the size of a potato chip would cost tens of thousands of dollars to make.

So Luminar has had to work hard to shrink the receptor down to the size of a strawberry seed. That means they cost only $3, though each only sees 120 degrees. Three receptors are needed to see all the way around the car and then there's the cost of everything else in the unit.

The cost of the whole LiDAR system is still a secret, but today's announcement from Volvo indicates that it's down to a manageable price. But there's still work to be done before the third-gen XC90 drives itself down the highway.

"Now we have to develop the software and the intelligence that can use this perception technology to actually identify millions of different objects and understand the intentions of those objects," Henrik Green, head of Volvo R&D, told Automotive News Europe . "We have a huge workload ahead of us."

Still, this is just one more of the edge pieces that will allow Volvo to fill in the rest of the puzzle of autonomous transportation more easily.