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LiDAR Basics



Humans and machines see the world differently. Advances in technology have significantly impacted the ability of machines to sense, “see” and interpret their environment. Thanks to LiDAR, machines now have the gift of sight.

LiDAR which stands for “Light Detection and Ranging” and sounds like its cousin “radar” also known as “Radio Detection and Ranging”. Is this a coincidence? Not really – both technologies are used to examine the environment around them however uses very different methods to achieve this.

How exactly does this method work? Well, before shedding some light on the methodology used, it all starts with the animal world – bats, dolphins and other animals all use the principle of echolocation. These different animals send out several short sound pulses, then wait to hear what echoes are produced thus determining what’s in their environment. The same principle applies to radar and LiDAR, they both rely on echoes however these two technologies do not use sound waves but radio and light waves, respectively.

So how does LiDAR work? LiDAR, one of the fastest growing realms of remote sensing emit pulses of light waves into the surrounding environment. These pulses bounce off the objects and return to the sensor or LiDAR source. The sensor/LiDAR source times how long it takes for each pulse to return, using this information it can determine the distance each pulse travelled. For the more technically inclined readers, the distance is calculated by using the speed and time.  The speed of light is approximately 3×108 m/s which makes using LiDARs to measure distance extremely fast. The formula experts use to attain the exact distance of the object is: the distance of the object= (Speed of light x time of flight)/ 2. This process is repeated many times with multiple nano-second pulses sent and received in a single second to determine the most accurate reading.

LiDAR first came into prominence in the 1960s, however at that point, there was no real use for it. Lasers and other detection technologies were just too large and super slow to take full advantage of LiDARs. Have a look at our VLOG video which explores the evolution of LiDAR in more depth.

With advances in nanotechnology at a silicon chip level, we are now able to pack far greater processing power and produce vastly improved emitter / sensor combinations that result in the miniaturized microLiDAR versions designed by LightWare LiDAR today.

LiDARs are incorporated in everything from the Internet of Things (IoT) to autonomous cars, to measuring a drone’s height above the ground, even farmers can plant and yield better crops thanks to LiDARs. New applications are invented every day!

Today, the world of LiDAR has grown and keeps evolving. Even the new iPAD and iPhone, sport a version of LiDAR today. This technology enhances 3D perception and is useful in Virtual reality (VR) and measurement applications. We have only exposed the tip of the iceberg.

Although, LiDARs cannot do everything, like for example read letters on a signboard and can be vulnerable when exposed to limited visibility, i.e., fog and snow, but keeping this in mind, the role of LiDARs can change as time progresses and there is still lots of room left to expand its capabilities.

Every application has matched to it the perfect sensor. Whilst LiDAR performs exceedingly well in the dark, and high-accuracy applications, it may not be the only sensor choice on every occasion. We have seen amazing applications where our customers ‘fuse’ data from a myriad of sensors to generate the optimal data set given each scenario.Do you need help exploring LiDAR sensors to problem solve a specific use case? Reach out to us today, we have the experience and love helping solve the most complex of LiDAR challenges!

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