What is LiDAR Technology?
LiDAR is an active remote sensing technology that uses laser pulses to perform a variety of tasks today. The name is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging, although it also serves as a portmanteau of “light” and “radar”. Radar, of course, is the historical system used to sense objects using radio waves to map terrain, while LiDAR technology uses pulses of light explains Marta Hall.
From an article in OCNJ Daily by MediaWize
Both technologies are similar in that they use electromagnetic radiating waves to create a map of an area, but they differ in the wavelength they use. The lasers applied by LiDAR are far more accurate and provide a wealth of imaging information that radar simply cannot create. Therefore, LiDAR has quickly become the preferred technology, although it is more expensive. The cost is expected to come down over time.
How Does LiDAR Work?
David Hall says that LiDAR works by sending out a laser pulse and measuring the time it takes for the pulse to bounce back off of the target object. The distance to the target can be calculated by knowing the speed of light and the time it takes for the pulse to return. When calculated against each other, advanced computers can create a detailed image of an area.
This process is repeated many times, with the laser pulse being sent out at different angles, to create a 3D map of the area. Marta Hall and David Hall say that to create a 3D map, the LiDAR system needs to be able to measure the distance to the target with a high degree of accuracy. The system requires powerful lasers and sensitive detectors.
In a lidar system used for robotics or autonomous vehicle navigation, the measurement process takes place in thousands of split seconds as a car moves forward on a road. David Hall explains he invented the rotational lidar to spin an array of laser beams as a way to scan the environment, gathering an immense amount of data in real-time, to create an image of the road instantaneously as a vehicle or robot moves forward. David Hall believes his invention spurred car makers and others to imagine a world of efficient, driverless cars.
In other lidar applications, the lasers are mounted on an airplane or a helicopter, and the detector is located on the ground. As the plane flies over the terrain, the two parts including the laser emitter and sensitive detector interact and create a 3D visual model of the surrounding landscape.
How LiDAR Technology is Being Applied Today
Today, lidar is being used to guide autonomous vehicles, to inform car safety systems, to navigate a variety of robotics, to sense danger in advanced security systems, and map cities in 3D. This activity will advance in the coming years as the technology matures.
Historically, LiDAR has long been used as a research, cartography, geology, and oceanography tool according to Marta Hall and David Hall. Today it continues to be used in these fields with exciting advancements. Lidar is being used in combination with sonar and stereo cameras to map the ocean floor, study plant growth, and understand the impact of natural disasters. In each of these cases, LiDAR, in combination with other sensing technologies provide researchers with a level of detail and accuracy that simply couldn’t be achieved previously.
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