LIDAR – Changing the Face of Data Collection

LiDAR is a mapping process. It scans the various features of planet Earth. It transmits optical laser light in pulses. The spatial environment is then featured in a 3-dimensional model.

Anthony
    Oct 28, 2016 12:10 AM  PT
LIDAR – Changing the Face of Data Collection
author: Anthony   

By Anthony C. LoBaido

Autonomous driving vehicles incorporate the use of remote "LiDAR" mapping. This sounds a bit like "radar," which dates back to World War II. Yet it's an entirely different phenomenon. Radar transmits microwaves in pulses and then determines the distance to objects and their angular position.

To the point: LiDAR is a mapping process. It scans the various features of planet Earth. It transmits optical laser light in pulses. The spatial environment is then featured in a 3-dimensional model. When we speak of the acronym of "LiDAR," we're in fact talking about "Light Detection and Ranging."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) explains LiDAR in the following manner:

"NOAA scientists use LIDAR-generated products to examine both natural and manmade environments. LIDAR data supports activities such as inundation and storm surge modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, shoreline mapping, emergency response, hydrographic surveying, and coastal vulnerability analysis.

"A LIDAR instrument principally consists of a laser, a scanner, and a specialized GPS receiver. Two types of LIDAR are topographic and bathymetric. Topographic LIDAR typically uses a near-infrared laser to map the land, while bathymetric lidar uses water-penetrating green light to also measure seafloor and riverbed elevations. LIDAR systems allow scientists and mapping professionals to examine both natural and manmade environments with accuracy, precision, and flexibility. NOAA scientists are using LIDAR to produce more accurate shoreline maps, make digital elevation models for use in geographic information systems, to assist in emergency response operations, and in many other applications."

How does LiDAR work? The article states:

"When an airborne laser is pointed at a targeted area on the ground, the beam of light is reflected by the surface it encounters. A sensor records this reflected light to measure a range. When laser ranges are combined with position and orientation data generated from integrated GPS and Inertial Measurement Unit systems, scan angles, and calibration data, the result is a dense, detail-rich group of elevation points, called a ‘point cloud.'

"Each point in the point cloud has three-dimensional spatial coordinates (latitude, longitude, and height) that correspond to a particular point on the Earth's surface from which a laser pulse was reflected. The point clouds are used to generate other geospatial products, such as digital elevation models, canopy models, building models, and contours."

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In terms of self-driving automobiles, LiDAR is just one of the many elements of sensor fusion that can help keep everyone safe on the roadways. LiDAR will help self-driving vehicles to detect objects in the road. This "detection and avoidance" system is paramount. Rotating laser beams are integral to the LiDAR process. Robot software will gain needed "intelligence" from the point cloud outputs provided by the LiDAR sensors. The very first cruise control vehicles used LiDAR sensors. They are not 100 percent foolproof as of yet. But that time may be coming.

LiDAR and similar technologies are already transforming transportation safety. Their development is one of the great boons to the automotive industry. As self-driving vehicles continue their ascendancy, we're sure to hear more about LiDAR.


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