LiDAR Equipped UAVs

6 Ways LiDAR is Revolutionizing Mapping and Geospatial Data

By David Benowitz David Benowitz
September 19, 2019

Whether you’re documenting a road accident scene at night, designing rice field irrigation systems or surveying archeological sites under dense forest canopies, advances in 3D mapping and geospatial data capturing are making these once time-consuming tasks, quicker and more efficient than ever before.

While a lot of focus has been put on the growing use of RGB camera-enabled drones and photogrammetry to achieve improvements – such as cutting rework on certain construction projects by 25% – LiDAR technology has slowly started to become accessible as a high resolution and accuracy option.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing technology that uses rapid laser pulses to map out the surface of the earth. LiDAR is useful when used to create high resolution digital surfaces, terrain and elevation models used for various business applications. Through innovations by leading LiDAR manufacturers like Livox and Velodyne to lower the costs and size of LiDAR models and system integrators such as GreenValleyYellowScan, Emesent, LiDARUSA and more, companies can now easily deploy a LiDAR system mounted onto a UAV as an all-in-one 3D mapping device. 

And now, with the recent announcement of the Zenmuse L1, DJI's first LiDAR payload designed specifically for the M300 RTK, aerial LiDAR has never been as accessible as it is now. 

3 Axis Gimbal 1024x512Zenmuse L1 on a 3-axis stabilized gimbal

Examples of LiDAR and Drones in action:

1. Accident Scenes

LiDAR is an active system that uses ultraviolet, near-infrared light to image objects requiring no external light for effective mapping. For example, when monitoring an interstate pileup at night, a LiDAR-equipped drone can easily be deployed, making a single pass over the site.

As a UAV-based solution, accurate information with visible details will be returned instantaneously, which can then be admitted as evidence in court. On the ground, wreckers and sanitation crews can begin the process of cleaning up quickly, saving thousands if not millions of dollars by freeing up commuters and spending less on accident personnel.

Collision Reconstruction LiDARCollision reconstruction in low-light conditions with LiDAR

2. Forestry

The production of paper, maple syrup, and other critical products require the efficient management of productive forests, yet managing these vast areas can be overwhelming due to their sheer size. Traditional methods for assessing a forest inventory are time-consuming and inefficient – at times relying on rough estimates for large areas. Using a LiDAR-equipped drone, foresters can measure canopy heights, coverage, tree density and even measure the location and height of individual trees.

This removes the guesswork and inefficiencies of traditional methods, with the added benefit of LiDAR being able to conduct these measurements even when human eyes cannot as they do not rely on natural light to operate.

LiDAR Foliage PenetrationLiDAR can measure canopy heights and tree density

3. Agriculture & Landscaping

On large scale farms, landscape 3D mapping has become crucial to implementing effective irrigation systems. For example, on large rice plantations, farmers need to build levees, which require accurate knowledge of the terrain for a system of levees to work. A LiDAR-equipped drone can collect data in a single pass allows farmers or consultants to progress through a large field quickly. Previous methods proved cumbersome and would involve waiting for the fields to dry up enough so that trucks could maneuver the terrain.

LiDAR point cloud of a parkEasily construct accurate terrain maps to make informed landscaping decisions. Image by LiDARUSA

4. Terrain Modeling

When strategizing on how best to prepare moving dirt for your business, it is crucial to know quantity down to the square yard. Dirt movers are paid by the yard and costs will add up if calculations are inaccurate. LiDAR offers significant savings over ground survey methods. By using a method of detecting distant objects such as leaves, shrubs, trees and even grass, LiDAR can determine their position, velocity, and other characteristics by analyzing pulsed laser light reflected from an object’s surface. This gives a 3D model of topographic terrain contours that ground operators can work from.

True-Color Point CloudsTrue-color point cloud captured by the Zenmuse L1

5. Archeology

Where traditional surveying methods for large historical sites used to take years to complete, with new LiDAR technology, entire cities can be mapped in 3D and in a matter of minutes. With UAV-based solution, previously considered ‘lost sites’ are being rediscovered every day.

6. Mine Inspections

LiDAR-equipped drones aren’t just made for outside operations and have proven to also be useful to inspect mines. Here the LiDAR doubles as a collision detection tool to conduct simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), providing companies with inspection data while also enabling the drone to operate semi or fully autonomously

This type of work enables miners to inspect a mine after a planned detonation to make sure the mine structure is stable before sending in any humans.

Emesent Hovermap M300 1Matrice 300 RTK with an Emesent Hovermap

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David Benowitz
About the Author David Benowitz

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