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Map the Earth with Lidar

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Dozens of established players and newer entrants are competing to bring the most cutting-edge remote sensing data to customers. These companies may use hyperspectral, thermal, radar or optical instruments to map the earth — but none, as of yet, use light detection and ranging (lidar), a technology that’s best-known for its use in self-driving cars. Nuview, a geospatial technology company that emerged from stealth today, wants to change that.

From an article in Tech Crunch by Aria Alamalhodaei.

The company aims to build out a constellation of 20 commercial satellites outfitted with its proprietary lidar system. The “endgame,” as Nuview founder and CEO Clint Graumann put it, is to map the entire land surface of the Earth with lidar — on an annual basis.

It’s an ambitious plan, but one that could potentially generate huge revenues if the company manages to pull it off.

There are many good reasons why no commercial company has managed to deploy space-based lidar at scale. NASA has sent up a handful of scientific payloads that use lidar, but they’re very large systems that require a lot of power. When lidar is used for mapping here on Earth, it’s done with unscalable and expensive platforms like aircraft and drones. Nor is it as simple as transferring lidar systems from self-driving cars to satellites; the former systems are usually short-range, with very low power requirements. Compared to what Nuview is building, it’s “apples and oranges,” Graumann said.

But there have been a number of changes over the past five years that make Nuview’s ambitious plan technically feasible. Some parts of the lidar system have finally become commercially available after being the exclusive purview of the U.S. Department of Defense, for example. Nuview has also been able to bring down the size and weight of its system compared to others that have gone to space, he said. But in arguably the most significant breakthrough, Graumann said the company’s system will be able to scan large areas at once.

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