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LiDAR: Past, Present & the (microLiDARs) of the Future

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology hails from humble beginnings but today has found its nook in almost every industry and domain.  The technology was first used to measure the distance between an airplane and the ground during World War II, however LiDAR technology started seeing some action during the 1980s when used for explorative space research. To get an idea of how much LiDAR has grown, it may be helpful to understand more about the past and present of this technology.

A brief history of LiDAR technology

How has LiDAR technology evolved? The beginnings of LiDAR can be traced back to the 1930s when people realised that solid objects can reflect light. Since then, this sensor technology has made major advancements in a variety of  applications across the board!

How did it all begin?

As we all know, most inventions are born because there is a problem to solve and the same applies to LiDAR. During the 1960s, LiDAR (still in its infancy phase) was used predominantly in terrain mapping in aeronautics and aerospace. It was only later, in the 1970s when this remote sensing technology was deployed on airborne sensors to map forests, oceans and the atmosphere. Perhaps, an unknown fact to most people is LiDAR technology was used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the Apollo moon missions. 

The in-between

Initially, the development of LiDAR technology was stagnant, this was due to the absence of commercial Global Positional Systems (GPS). GPS technologies coupled with (Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) are required to enable aerial sensor deployment, once GPS solutions became commercialised – it paved the way for aerial LiDAR deployment. Thus, allowing LiDAR technology to grow exponentially! Furthermore, the short wavelength that laser light produces, gives accurate and precise data for meteorology and atmospheric research.

During the 1990s, the requirement for mapping applications saw the rise of the first commercial LiDARs. Here, LiDAR technology coupled with the use of aerial cameras, enabled photogrammetry and high-resolution mapping of terrains which produced reliable measurements in both land surveying and mapping.

LiDAR today

What is happening with LiDAR today? LiDAR technology is used in a variety of applications such as:

  • Farming
  • Forestry
  • Archaeology
  • Mining
  • Industrial
  • Internet of Things

LiDAR technology is forever evolving and improving with newer and better models being developed with the focus on the size, weight and for specific new applications.. LiDAR design has changed drastically from box-like models to the bold new  360 degree scanning devices of today.

The timeline of LiDAR technology

Just a side note: We have a VLOG video that focuses specifically on how LiDAR has evolved. Click here to access it.

LiDAR and its race against other remote sensing technologies

Remote sensing technologies have been transforming the way the world gathers information. Other popular remote sensing technologies include:

  • RADAR: Radio Detection and Ranging: measures distance, velocity or angle of objects by using radio waves.
  • SONAR: Sonic Navigation and Ranging: the use of sound waves to map and explore the ocean.
  • SODAR: Sonic Detection and Ranging: measures wind speed and direction using sound waves. 

The table below tabulates some of the applications that these remote sensing technologies are used for.

Table 1.1: RADAR versus SONAR vs LiDAR vs SoDAR

Checking traffic speed Used in ships & submarines for communication purposes Used as level sensors to detect levels in silos & tanks Measures wind speed and direction
Aerospace security Medical imaging Mapping applications
Weather services Mapping oceans, i.e., the ocean floor Autonomous vehicles
Automotive Parking bay sensors used in IoT applications
Medical devices Agriculture
Building construction

These are just SOME popular applications of LiDAR – in reality, the list is much longer. We can safely assume that there will be even more exciting LIDAR developments as the applications and use cases that require LiDAR continue to grow.

The magic word “MicroLiDAR”

LightWare manufacturers the world’s smallest and most lightweight 1D and 2D sensors and that’s how we coined the term “microLiDAR’’. Our sensors work on the principle of LiDAR time-of-flight technology to make very fast, accurate distance and speed measurements.

Our sensors are popular in drones and ideal for weight-sensitive mobile robot applications. But it doesn’t stop here – our sensors are perfect for a variety of applications across several industries.

LightWare’s sensor technology is used for a range of IoT (Internet of Things) applications. LiDARs combined with (IoT) can help create a “SMART cities” by improving data that is already obtained as well as provide real-time measurement.

Solutions include:

  • People counting: LiDARs can detect, count and record people as well as people movement without infringement of their privacy.
  • Parking bay detection: LiDARs can save drivers the struggle of looking for empty parking spaces. The data not only communicates how many empty parking spots are available, but also indicates where these spaces are.

In addition to IoT, our LiDARs cover a range of industrial applications. Examples include: 

  • Volume measurement and level sensing: Our LiDARs provide reliable and accurate measurements of inventory and available space in silos, tanks, and warehouses.
  • Transport: Autonomous vehicles equipped with LightWare’s LiDARs is an efficient way to transport goods from one place to another in large warehouses.
  • Delivery: Our LiDARs are perfect for autonomous delivery operations.

To learn more about the different problems LiDARs can help solve, have a look at our blog post!

Our LiDAR designs have grown in leaps and bounds – but size and weight are not the only improvements we’ve made. The solutions we provide as well as the applications our LiDARs can be used for continues to evolve.

The evolution of LightWare’s LiDARs

Let LightWare LiDAR help find the best microLiDAR solution for you!

Finding the right microLiDAR solution can be a daunting task. So many applications… can one LiDAR be a solution for every application out there? The answer is no… Our LiDARs come in different shapes, sizes and weights. At LightWare, we know that each customer has a unique problem to solve and that is why our LiDARs are designed with these specifications in mind.

Do you need help exploring LiDAR sensors to problem solve a specific use case? Visit our website and contact us for more information. We have the experience and love helping solve the most complex of LiDAR challenges!

Also what’s better is we offer customised microLiDAR solutions for your business needs! And like most things’ tech-related, you can expect our LiDAR technology to keep evolving!

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