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Lidar Drone: Surveying and 3D Mapping with UAV Lidars

Drone Lidars: What are Lidars? How do Lidar Drones work? and more about Surveying and Applications


Table of Contents 

  1. What is Lidar?

  2. What is a Lidar Drone? 

  3. Photogrammetry vs. Lidar

  4. Lidar Applications – Surveying



What is a Lidar? 

Lidar is an acronym for “light detection and ranging.” You will often hear “3D” used with Lidar because Lidar provides a 3D mapping of its scan. This technology will use safe lasers to scan and create a ‘3D map’ of the surveyed location. 

How a lidar typically works is that it emits pulsed light waves into a surrounding area. The wave bounces off of objects, and when it does so the device will calculate the distance of the surface based on the time it took for the wave to reach the object in that environment. 

Below is shown the True View 600 3DIS a Lidar from GeoCue Group one of Inspired Flight’s Lidar Partners.


What is a Lidar Drone? 

A lidar drone is simply a drone that is used with a lidar payload. Lidar drones are super effective because you’re able to do widespread mapping across many acres in a very short period of time. Drones give you full control over the Lidars movement and because of high-tech Lidars and the drone’s elevation you’re able to quickly scan vast areas that would otherwise not be accessible with expensive aerial equipment like a helicopter. 

Generally, one manufacturer will make the drones while another will make the lidar sensors. These different companies are able to each provide the best possible product because they are each specialized in those specific industries. This lets you have an effective, accurate, and reliable lidar, along with a high-performance commercial drone built for heavy payloads, long flight times, and important missions. Inspired Flight develops heavy-duty commercial drones that are fully customizable to any payload, including Lidars. Some of our Lidar manufacturing partners include Lidar USA, Nextcore, Geocue Cube, Frontier PRecision and Aevex Aerospace – learn more about our Lidar partners here.

Below is shown the IF1200 by Inspired Flight equipped with a True View 515 3DIS, a Lidar from GeoCue Group one of Inspired Flight’s Lidar Partners.


Photogrammetry vs. Lidar

Photogrammetry and Lidar are similar but offer different benefits and drawbacks. Photogrammetry provides a photo-like image showing clear details of the exact objects on the ground and their space, size, and color – but because photogrammetry uses photos and not lasers there is a drawback here because lasers can break through tiny spaces like between leaves and trees where some lasers will even hit the ground giving a lot more precise data on certain areas such as forests and areas of high vegetation. 

Lidar also has an upper hand when it comes to processing time, full resolution photogrammetry processing can take several hours or even days depending on the size of the project. Lidar on the other hand uses real-time kinematic positioning (RTK) during flight or post-processed kinematic position (PPK) after flight and these fully processed data sets can be ready in as little as under an hour. 


Lidar Applications – Surveying

Lidar applications are endless, common industries in which lidar surveying may be used include but are not limited to the following;  civil engineering & surveying, infrastructure such as highways and road networks, and mines & quarries. 


Civil Engineering & Surveying

Usage of Lidar in Civil engineering is extensive. Aspects of civil engineering that require lidar are design, evaluation, and surveying. Lidar can help make decisions on accurate design plans, help to find changes to previous data, and create detailed 3D landscapes for existing structures and vegetation. 

Other benefits of surveying with done Lidar include speed, accuracy, and safety. These benefits are self-explanatory – with the efficiency, you get when using a lidar-equipped drone you’re able to cut down on the time it takes to survey massive areas of land, and in effect reduce the budget required as well. Lidar provides an ultra-accurate representation of the environment because of the precision of lasers used in commercial lidar scanners. UAVs make it much safer to run surveying missions that are unmanned and leave virtually no risk for human injury or death. 


Infrastructure: Highways and Road Networks

Lidar is also an extremely important technology for the infrastructure industry. Lidar helps to cut down timelines and budgets for infrastructure planning, maintenance improvement, and development extensively. 

When considering infrastructure you have to think about planning road projects, maintaining existing roads, improving existing roads, and developing new roads – within each of these steps of infrastructure Lidar can be used to safely and efficiently collect accurate data that helps to plan new projects, find damaged areas for very necessary repairs (that may be hard to spot with photogrammetry), and much more. 


Mines and Quarries 

Lidar used in mines and quarries is a critical surveying tool. By nature, mines and quarries are very remote and access is limited making it very dangerous to access. UAV Lidar offers a comprehensive surveying option that is many times more practical than traditional surveying. Like other industries using UAV lidar technology improves safety, speed, and budget. UAVs allow for quick access to hard-to-reach locations while maintaining safety for the operator. Also, this makes it much faster to get the job done – quicker work means fewer resources, less man-hours, and fewer materials needed, this lowers necessary budgets to complete these projects. 


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