One of the hottest new technologies for next-generation auto-safety systems and planned “autonomous” vehicles has roots going back a century.

Yes, we’re talking about radar, the same technology that began as a curiosity in the early 20th century, helped Britain to repel the Luftwaffe in World War II, and has long enabled weather forecasting and allowed air-traffic controllers to keep our skies safe.

Today, radar is no longer just for airplanes and military installations. A number of new companies on both the hardware and software side are making radar an integral part of safety systems to detect cyclists and pedestrians.

The need for such technology is urgent: Pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have surged in the past few years, even as Americans logged fewer miles on the road. And increasing levels of autonomy in new vehicles that enable features like collision warning, automatic braking, and blind-spot detection—not…

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