Selecting a LiDAR Sensor – DRONELIFE


Extra LiDAR sensors for drones are hitting the market, with guarantees of correct 3D fashions and terrain maps.  How do drone professionals method selecting a LiDAR sensor?  The deep dive on the choices: what they’re, and what they do.

The next is a visitor publish by Douglas Noticed Eagle, Founder and Director of Academic Programming at Sundance Media Group.  DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes cost for visitor posts.

2022 is clearly the yr of LiDAR.

At all the UAS reveals within the USA, Mexico, Canada, and EU, the new matter is LiDAR in 2022, and 2023 is ramping as much as be extra of the identical, with vital progress.

LiDAR is a “LIght Detection And Ranging” sensor, using a laser, position-controlled mirror, an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) and inside processing to file geolocation knowledge.

A LiDAR sensor emits a pulse of sunshine in direction of the goal (floor) The sunshine is mirrored from the floor/earth (some extent) and returned to the sensor. The receiver detects the returning sign and calculates the gap the sunshine has traveled. Utilizing the place of the sensor, mirror, IMU, the course wherein the sunshine was despatched and the gap calculated. Following this return and calculations, the 3D place the place the sign was returned could also be decided. With tens of millions of reflections putting a terrestrial floor and returning to the LiDAR sensor, these contact “factors” are used to generate the 3D mannequin or ortho re-creating the goal space in a digital atmosphere.

As a result of LiDAR sensors generate their very own sign pulse, illumination from different sources  (for instance, the solar), many LiDAR operator/pilots seize knowledge at evening. So long as there may be nothing interfering between sensor and floor it’s due to this fact doable to gather knowledge beneath cloud cowl (or at the hours of darkness). LiDAR can supply extraordinarily versatile entry to areas requiring scans, given the flexibility to fly at evening, or when cloud cowl has a unfavorable impression on a website the place photogrammetry is probably not doable attributable to lighting circumstances.

LiDAR sensors had been beforehand relegated to fastened wing or rotary plane attributable to weight and price, now accessible by any mid or heavy-lift UAS.

The above picture is the writer’s first expertise with LiDAR; a Velodyne VLP16 with Geodetics IMU, mounted to a Yuneec H920 hexcopter.

With ever-increasing flight effectivity coupled with lowered weight and price of LiDAR sensors, there are a number of plane and LiDAR programs out there at reasonably priced value factors to go well with just about any price range. Whereas LiDAR could not but be for informal pilots, business pilots report near-immediate full ROI with LiDAR as a result of present shortage of full programs.

Sensors could also be bought as an entire/whole resolution with plane, help software program, and payload, or homeowners of medium elevate programs could buy LiDAR sensors individually to mount on no matter plane they’re acquainted and comfy with.   For instance, there are numerous LiDAR payloads out there for the DJI Matrice 300 platform, Impressed Flight, Freefly, Yuneec, Maptek, Microdrones, and different programs.

LiDAR packages could also be stand-alone, mixed with separate RGB cameras for photogrammetry, or assembled with each in a single housing. For instance, the extremely common GeoCue 515 package deal not solely provides a Hesai XT32 LiDAR sensor, it additionally contains two 20MP RGB cameras for colorizing the pointcloud, or for photogrammetry deliverables. Moreover, the system is designed for correctly and exactly scaling RGB knowledge on to the 3D pointcloud, offering not solely a really correct and exact mannequin, however colorized, photo-realistic knowledge for engineers, surveyors, development groups, graphic designers, sport designers, and so on.

Pilots, engineers, program managers, surveyors will need to think about a number of components when selecting a LiDAR payload for buy or lease.

  • Value
  • Penetration
  • Decision
  • Software program price/flexibility
  • Issue of operation

Totally different sensors will yield completely different outcomes. Under are examples from the DJI L1, the Velodyne VLP16 (Microdrones HR), Hesai Pandar XT32 , and the Reigl Vux1 sensors. Profiles/cross sections captured from LP360 illustrate the floor knowledge from the varied sensors, and is a assured methodology of displaying vegetation penetration.

Pictured above, the DJI L1 is incapable of any efficient penetration by way of vegetation or different porous areas. Moreover, strip alignment could also be difficult in some eventualities. This knowledge was captured, initially processed in DJI Terra, and end processed in GeoCue LP360.

The profile seen right here, demonstrates the penetration capabilities of the Microdrones HR VLP16 payload. Observe the higher decision of information beneath timber, each broadleaf and palm.

On this picture, there are not any gaps beneath the timber. Within the heart, a uniform despair is seen. The Hesai Pandar XT32 was capable of “see” beneath shallow water floor. On this case, roughly 12” of water depth, but the creek backside is stable (seen). Whereas the below-water knowledge will not be viable for measurement, it does present higher knowledge for engineering issues.

These two illustrations are sourced from the Riegl Vux1 sensor. This sensor offers the very best decision of all 4 pictures in contrast right here, with a a lot increased price ticket to match the picture high quality. Observe within the zoomed in profile, practice rails/tracks will not be solely seen, however precisely measurable. There are not any holes within the floor beneath any of the timber, and the tree element is sufficient to classify tree sorts.


It’s price noting that stable state LiDAR programs are on the rise, and really a lot in growth for longer-range with excessive density. Know-how hasn’t improved to a degree the place stable state LiDAR is likely to be broadly relevant for UAS work, whereas the expertise has proved promising attributable to lighter weight, much less energy consumption, and pace. Nevertheless, growth is closely targeted on autonomous automobiles at current, but it’s absolutely anticipated we’ll quickly see stable state LiDAR out there for aerial functions.


Photogrammetry makes use of a number of pictures with embedded geodata, matching pixels, and knowledge info to create an orthomosiac. Pointclouds will be derived from pictures with barely much less accuracy, however a major time dedication. A 50 acre discipline processed as a pointcloud derived from images could take as much as 12 hours on a mean pc, whereas the identical pc will course of the LiDAR-sourced pointcloud in beneath half-hour.  LiDAR is considerably sooner to fly than UAS designed for photogrammetry, as the necessity for deep overlap is lessened in LiDAR workflow.

Moreover, LiDAR could also be flown at evening (until colorization is required) whereas photogrammetry requires daytime.

Then again, photogrammetry missions could also be flown whereas there may be water on the bottom after a flood or heavy precipitation. LiDAR works greatest in dry, non-reflective environments.  Mirrored home windows, water reflecting on leaves, ponds, creeks, and so on will show as blacked-out areas in a LiDAR scan.

On this scan of the Colorado River, areas containing water show as black.


Not all software program functions are suitable with all of the completely different LiDAR sensors. The way in which trajectories are learn/displayed, how knowledge is managed/dealt with, even fundamental options are very completely different between the varied software program instruments out there right this moment. For instance, till lately, the info from DJI’s L1 LiDAR system may solely be initially processed in DJI Terra software program, which is sort of restricted, and plenty of really feel is “kludgy and gradual.”  It’s additionally not a platform identified for being secure.

Lately, GeoCue has added the DJI L1 to it’s compatibility platform, enabling DJI customers to make use of the LP360 software program with L1 knowledge, with nice stability, flexibility, and pace.

When selecting a LiDAR system, there are numerous issues, the best of which is how essential excessive decision and precision at floor can be to tasks/workflows. Funds ceaselessly makes this dedication. Nevertheless, backside line vs long-term wants are sometimes at odds with one another; it’s smart to spend “up” to the next grade LiDAR sensor when buyer satisfaction is on the prime of the listing.  Analysis typically requires increased grade sensors as nicely.

When selecting a LiDAR system, think about the plane carrying the payload, the software program required to course of the info, and think about flight instances as nicely. Two hours flying a slender beam sensor vs half-hour of a wider throw could make all of the distinction, notably when the corporate has a deep backlog and is concentrated on effectivity.

Whether or not LiDAR a corporation is prepared for LiDAR now, or down the highway, there has by no means been a greater time to be taught extra about LiDAR, pointclouds, and the variations of information processing from photogrammetry workflows.

Particular because of Brady Reisch of KukerRanken for the profile slices of information.

Douglas Noticed Eagle is the Founder and Director of Academic Programming at Sundance Media Group.  SMG serves as a advisor inside the sUAS trade, providing coaching and talking engagements on sUAS matters: UAV cinematography, business and infrastructural sUAS functions, sUAS danger administration, evening UAV flight, aerial safety programs, and 107 coaching.  

Learn extra:



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here