LIDAR technology: A primer

LIDAR technology: A primer

Lidar stands for Light Detection and Ranging and is essentially the use of lasers to capture and record complex environmental data. The reason Lidar has become more popular in recent years is its ability to travel, hit a target and communicate back the precise distance it has traveled quickly.

Laser technology known as LiDAR digitally removes the forest canopy to reveal ancient ruins

COURTESY WILD BLUE MEDIA/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – Laser technology known as LiDAR digitally removes the forest canopy to reveal ancient ruins.

It can also penetrate foliage, ground-cover and water to map information that was previously very difficult to capture.

Types of Lidar

Lidar is captured in many different ways:

  • Traditional terrestrial tripods have been used for years in surveying.
  • Fixed Wing and Helicopter have used Lidar-mounted scanning units for years doing large geographic captures of data.
  • Drones and mobile scanners sometimes call SLAM are newer and have been in use for a few years.

Using the right tool

Each Lidar technology and method of data capture has different uses. If you are considering hiring someone for laser scanning make sure you understand and can clearly articulate the specific goals, or end purpose, of the project. This will dictate the right scanning technology used to capture data.

For example, when doing indoor as-scanned™ mapping there is generally no need to use 3D scanners with millimeter accuracy; 1-3 cm for accuracy will work fine and is about 10 times faster to conduct.

In a situation where you are doing interference drawings above the ceiling and have very limited room, millimeter accuracy is needed; a terrestrial scanner with higher accuracy would be used.

The future: closer than it seems

Lidar technology is evolving at a rapid place, enabling things that seemed impossible only a few years ago. In the movie Prometheus (from 2012), advanced three-dimensional renderings were pure science fiction. In 2018, with the advances in autonomous drones, laser and wireless technology, it’s much closer than you think!

Famous LIDAR projects:

Here are some examples of how LIDAR has been used – from Archaeology to Martian weather forecasting!



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