Light Detection and Ranging, also known as LIDAR, is a laser-based remote sensing technology. The concept is to point a small laser at a surface and measure the time it takes the laser to return to its source.

While similar to radar, something that is a bit more familiar, LIDAR uses laser instead of radio waves. The way it works is:

  1. it emits a laser pulse on a surface
  2. it then catches the reflected laser back to the LiDAR source using sensors
  3. it calculates or measures the time that it took the laser to travel back to the source
  4. and then calculates the distance from source with a formula

When repeated over and over, this process then produces a complex map of the surveyed area.LIDAR Technology

How is the area scanned?
LiDAR systems may be used by drones, airplanes, autos and more.  It can pulse through vegitation, air and even water to map most any area. The choice of optical lenses and scanners have an influence on the resolution and range in which you can use the LIDAR system.

Applications of LIDAR
There are many applications in which LIDAR significantly aids engineers, service technicians and other individuals survey and plan.

  • Powerlines – Maintenance scheduling can be improved with LIDAR technology.  From planning trimming activities to detection of problems such as sagging or downed lines LIDAR is extremely useful.
  • Oil Pipelines – When looking to extend a pipeline, lay new lines or repair existing lines, LIDAR can help identify problems and appropriate pathways.
  • Mining – Perhaps one of the most dangerous professions, LIDAR can be a vital aid when it comes to expansion of existing mines.
  • Civil Engineering – Mapping golf courses, planning roadways, renovations after natural disasters – these tasks require precision and accuracy and LIDAR helps with feasibility studies, mapping, excavation planning and more.
  • Environmental and Forestry – LIDAR assists with tree counting, measuring forest growth, spread of disease and can improve the acquisition of valuable data.
  • Archaeology – Finding, mapping and excavating historical areas hidden under the surface of the earth of a canopy of vegetation has been tedious work. Using LIDAR, this process becomes more precise.

Laser mapping was recently used to reveal a massive network of Mayan ruins in Guatamala that had been hidden from view by a dense canopy of jungle. LIDAR helped to find cities and more than 60,000 interconnected structures like houses, farms, highways and pyramids.

This National Geographic video called The Lost Maya City that shows how LIDAR helped archaeologists find this old city.