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If you’re building a drone or robot you’re gonna need it to know where it’s at and where it’s going. For that, you’ll need to pack it with some sensors, and when it comes to reliable, low-cost navigation sensors, it’s hard to beat LIDAR. It has sharp resolution, especially when compared to sonar; LIDAR beats light and time-of-flight sensors in both terms of range and the fact that the latter often don’t work well outside; and camera-vision based systems are too unpredictable for reliable navigation.

The problem with LIDAR is that it’s not cheap. An affordable 2D unit with a 10m range can set you back at least $1,000. At least, this was the problem. Scanse, a California- base startup is breaking onto the sensor scene with a new 2D LIDAR that is both much, much cheaper than alternatives, and promises to be much better as well.

Sweep, Scanse’s offering, goes for just $250, and the spinning LIDAR sensor packs an impressive range of 40 metres, even outdoors.

Sweep works with a new kind of LIDAR sensor from a company called PulsedLight. It works in a novel way that is “based on a new time of flight ranging method, which involves sending out laser pulses that are made up of a series of micro pulses. These micro pulses act as a kind of light based checksum, which allows the sensor to more easily correlate returning light to the known pattern, and achieve a phase difference measurement,” explains Scanse’s co-founder Tson Messori.

The new method, he says, allows the sensor to use lower-power components, “which contributes to its low cost.” This also helps increase the range greatly.

Sweep is still a work in progress, and it will be some time before it’s ready to ship. But when it does, it could seriously help hobbyists create some cool tech.