Unlocking the World with LiDAR

Background

My class presentation last week focused on LiDAR technology. I chose this topic because I’ve heard about laser technology being used to make archeological discoveries and wanted to learn more. My research taught me that LiDAR is much more than a way to look through the trees to find ancient ruins, but is a tool that has been changing mapping for many years.

For those who may not remember from my presentation, LiDAR is a remote-sensing technology that uses a laser beam to get information about surrounding objects and creates 3-D laser scans. LiDAR stands for light image detection and ranging. It determines ranges by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. Since its inception, scientists have used LiDAR to map the earth’s surface and acquire meteorological data.

In todays world, LiDAR has terrestrial, airborne, and mobile applications. Governments and companies use LiDAR technology in self-driving cars, augmented reality gadgets, smartphones, and even household appliances.

An examples of how LiDAR technology uses lasers to map areas can be seen in the video below.

Real World Applications

Archaeology

The moment I remembered that their was technology being used to uncover ancient civilizations around the world was the moment I knew what my presentation topic was going to be.

With increased resolution, LiDAR can now be used to search for ancient cities and even outline overgrown structures through thick vegetation. Indiana Jones would have a much easier time finding long lost civilizations with this technology. The video clip above shows exactly how this is done. Aircraft use laser mapping technology to scan areas and the scan is able to create 3-D images that show everything on the ground level.

Over the past decade, LiDAR mapping has been able to make the following discoveries:

  • Cambodia – LiDAR surveys in the areas surrounding the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia revealed “multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.” These previously unknown settlements led researchers to conclude that the civilization had a much denser and larger population, even suggesting that these “cities would have constituted the largest empire on earth at the time of its peak in the 12th century
  • Guatemala – LiDAR revealed 60,000 previously unknown Mayan structures. Thanks to LiDAR surveying, experts are now suggesting the population of the region at its peak could have been 10-15 million people, a dramatic increase from previous estimates of 5 million
  • Egypt- LiDAR scanners have been used to identify hidden chambers in Egyptian pyramids

LiDAR technology has opened up parts of the world we didn’t know existed. I can’t wait to see what new discoveries lie ahead with the use of this mapping technology.

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous cars have been making headlines and many are excited about their future impact on our roadways. In order for these vehicles to drive on their own, most will be using LiDAR technology. LiDAR will be the key to helping these vehicles “see”. It will do this by using a point cloud output from the LiDar sensor which will provide the necessary data for software to determine where the potential obstacles exist in the environment and where car is in relation to those potential obstacles.

LiDAR technology is becoming increasingly mainstream in self-driving vehicles as it is far more accurate than cameras or radar at judging distance and impervious to surfaces that are reflective, textured, or textureless. Several companies, including Google, Uber, and Toyota rely heavily on LiDAR systems to navigate their vehicles.

Agriculture

Farmers and agricultural technology companies can use LiDAR in a variety of ways to improve farming practices and output. Several uses for LiDAR in agriculture include:

  • Crop Growth – Can identify areas with optimal sunlight that will yield the most growth
  • Elevation Mapping – Mapping shows exactly where natural resources such as streams are located as well as look at how even minor sloping in the land can affect water drainage and pooling
  • Monitoring Insects – Used to monitor insects in the field. The use of Lidar can detect the movement and behavior of individual flying insects, with identification down to sex and species
  • Crop Management – Detect foliage growth and the need for pruning or other maintenance, detect variations in fruit production, or count plants
  • Soil Analysis – Using geospatial measurement data from LiDAR, you can use digital soil mapping to learn more about the terrain, including the quality of the topsoil, the classification and type of soil you have on your farm, and also how well the water can drain
  • Crop Damage – In the event of a severe storm, drought, or other issue, it’s important to know how these affected your crops and if or how much damage there is. LiDAR offers an accurate look at the severity of the loss in a way that aerial footage and on-the-ground monitoring can’t provide

Additional Capabilities

iPhone

▪Measuring – Built-in LiDAR allows you to measure the distance between two points, find out objects’ measurements , and even check if the surface is straight

▪3D Scanning – Capture and share dimensionally accurate 3D scans of buildings, rooms, and other places around you

▪Photography – LiDAR sensor allows for a focus time of 6 times faster for both video and photo sessions. LiDAR enhances night mode quality by providing precise distance measurements

Augmented Reality – With LiDAR scan, AR apps now finally recognize what should be in front of a virtual object or behind it. The positioning of objects doesn’t depend on where you stand, allowing for more fluid gaming and other experiences

Space Exploration – LiDAR technology can provide three-dimensional terrain elevation maps, high precision distances to the ground, and approach velocity necessary to land robotic and manned vehicles with greater precision

Oil & Gas Exploration – Being used to locate new oil and gas deposits

Tsunami Modeling – LiDAR measures the elevation of seashore and underwater. This information can be used to feed the LiDAR data into a GIS, which is used to predict which areas may be affected by tsunami the most

Forensics – LiDAR-based tools can help forensic investigators make the data collection process quicker and more accurate compared to manual approach. Infrared lasers and 3D scanning allow for capturing fingerprints without a chemical solution

What do you think LiDAR could be used for in the future?

8 comments

  1. I think this is an amazing technology that is underrated. I hadn’t heard about it until your presentation! I wonder what went into discovering/making this technology come to life. So many applications across industries as well. I wonder if this technology will be leveraged for metaverse too!

  2. This blog is an excellent follow-up to your presentation. Lidar technology has a lot of potential by improving our lives and unlocking historical findings. After reading your blog post, I wondered how this technology could be applied to study the depth of the ocean floor. Also, I’d be curious to see if the high price point for Lidar technology lessens in the future for auto manufacturers. I think we will have to see if more Lidar producers enter the market to promote more competitive pricing.

  3. Great follow-up blog! I learned a lot from your presentation. I think it’s fascinating that Lidar technology was able to find ruins (especially in Egypt) after several decades of mining and gold-hunting.
    A lot of people think there isn’t much to learn from the past, but they are wrong. I took a medical course on the history of medicine that discussed how discoveries of ancient cities/text have advanced our knowledge of how blood moves through veins and the control of limbs through the brain (both examples of ancient Greek medical findings). I can only imagine what other discoveries will be made with the use of Lidar technology!

  4. If only Indiana Jones had lidar technology. Nevertheless, great blog post. It’s intriguing to see Lidar technology have such a profound impact on the natural world. I typically consider archaeology and agriculture as completely isolated from technology, but intriguing to the two entities increasingly connect.

  5. You did an excellent job presenting this technology! I am so fascinated by this technology. I have big hopes that they are going to bring the price down and make it more affordable. I believe more laws will come to the rescue! I was also really fascinated by all the different applications that you were able to find. PS: Amazing video!

  6. I find this technology fascinating. I’m a bit a shipwreck junky or really anything that might be at the bottom of the sea. I’m interested to see how this technology can be used to solve some of the mysteries of the sea. Recent example would be Malaysia Flight 370 that vanished back in 2014. I’d say it’s likely at the bottom of the Indian Ocean somewhere but LiDAR technology I assume would be a more cost effective way to search for the aircraft instead of current radar scanning. Finding it would help bring closure to families. Would also be cool to find shipwrecks as well. A local reference would be the Andrea Gail that was lost in the Perfect Storm of 1991.

  7. Love the post, Dylan. I, too, had no idea what LIDAR was before your presentation, but now that I do know what it is and what it does, and I honestly can’t believe I didn’t hear about it earlier. I wonder if LIDAR ever gets to the point where we can accurately predict volcano eruptions or cracks in the faults, and maybe even use our phones to detect ancient life under our very own feet. Robert’s comment about discovering shipwrecks or planes deep in the ocean is also something fascinating. I personally feel that with vehicles now using LIDAR, it’ll get the attention it needs for further research and improvement.

  8. One of the companies in my stock portfolio is Lumentum which manufactures LiDar systems. While I was aware of the applications with autonomous vehicles, I was not aware that it can be applied to uncover structures and terrain beneath others. I would be curious to know what healthcare applications are possible with this tech.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: