Innovation Lab: LiDAR

In my line of work, I come across some of the best tech in the world.
Today’s obsession is LiDAR technology, and all it offers to the world.

There are a lot of innovations you come across in my line of work. Some at a consumer level, some at a professional level, and some at a pro-sumer level too. But one that keeps coming to my attention, and it has done for some time now – is LiDAR.

So, what is LiDAR? What does it offer us in the technology and innovation sector / the world? And where are we seeing use cases these days? Join me as I explore the intriguing qualities that make up this powerful light detecting technology.

First thing’s first, what is LiDAR:

LiDAR (or Light Detection and Ranging) ‘is an active optical sensor that transmits laser beams toward a target while moving through specific survey routes. The reflection of the laser from the target is detected and analysed by receivers in the lidar sensor.’

‘These receivers record the precise time from when the laser pulse left the system to when it is returned to calculate the range distance between the sensor and the target. Combined with the positional information (GPS and INS), these distance measurements are transformed to measurements of actual three-dimensional points of the reflective target in object space.’ (ArcGIS)

In other words, it’s radar scanning at an exceptional standard!

LiDAR & Understanding our Environment:

As you can imagine, a highly intuitive light detection and ranging sensor can be used for many things; but one way in which LiDAR has been taken up in a huge way, is remote sensing in the Agriculture sector. Imagine some of the tallest trees in the world, vast expanses of forest, large canyons too dangerous to traverse – well, LiDAR has completely transformed how we can understand these diverse ecosystems.

“LiDAR is one remote sensing method that can be used to map structures, including vegetation height, density and other characteristics across a region. LiDAR directly measures the height and density of vegetation on the ground making it an ideal tool for scientists studying vegetation over large areas.” (neonscience)

Another really exciting development in LiDAR technology, is its ability to assist in the prediction of wild fire behaviours. This is a huge development with the onslaught of climate change, and something with real value to communities in fire-ravaged areas like California and Australia. Using the ‘Black Forest Wildfire’ as a LiDAR assessment, a great analysis was made of vegetation, characteristics, structure ignition (and so much more) to aid in the better understanding of these fires. The end result? More knowledge, more reaction time, and therefore the reduction in destruction of human life, homes, and natural ecosystems.

See the assessment here: ‘Using the Black Forest Fire of 2013 near Colorado Springs, Colorado, this research is generating lidar-derived vegetation measures, structure characteristics, and landscape features to quantify the prefire conditions that increased or decreased the likelihood of structure ignition and consumption in the State’s most destructive wildfire event to date.’ (EROS)

LiDAR in Society:

LiDAR is becoming more common in every major sector across the world where technology is being used to improve human efficiency; and we have listed below some of the most noteworthy:

  1. Astronomy – Topography of Mars: LiDAR technology was used to create a topographic map of Mars back in 1999.

  2. Agriculture – Crop Viability.

  3. Atmosphere – Pollution Modelling and Meteorology: Early LiDAR technology, known as ‘elastic backscatter LiDAR’, was developed for the study of aerosols and clouds, ideal for looking at atmospheric composition.

  4. Autonomous Vehicles – Collision Avoidance: LiDAR sensors determine the exact position of obstacles in the surrounding environment, generating data that will steer vehicles in the right direction to avoid making an impact. This technology is particularly useful for the development of autonomous and self-driving cars.

  5. Law Enforcement - LiDAR has a wide range of applications in the field of law enforcement, from speed limit enforcement to 3D recording of accidents and crime scenes.

  6. Medical Research, Security, Gaming, and more!

Consumer level LiDAR Tech:

Gaming & Mobile Tech:

Now if LiDAR intrigues you like it does me, then you might be thinking – how do I get my hands on such a thing on a consumer level?! Well thanks to Apple, that’s a possibility too. Their latest iPad Pro is complete with a LiDAR scanner.

Used to transform the possibilities of the game ‘The floor is Lava’ – we’ve all been there – they are promoting this intuitive software that can detect objects and build 3D maps of your living room, and all in real-time: “The game is a clever way to show off the capabilities of the LiDAR scanner. A player scans a living room with an iPad, and the app generates hot lava on the floor and platforms for the game’s character to jump on in AR.” (theverge)

Apple’s LiDAR Scanner is not at the level of professional LiDAR scanners (as that available for outdoor surveying and scanning), ‘yet it can measure the distance to surrounding objects for approximately 5 meters away, works both indoors and outdoors, at a photon level at nanosecond speed, and enables tracking the location of people (spatial tracking).’ (

Well, that’s it for now – for more in depth information and news on LiDAR, see the LiDAR news website here.

For other innovations we’re working on, working with, and inspired by at Pufferfish, keep following our Labs section.

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