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What is LiDAR? A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Harnessing Drone LiDAR Technology

Introduction

Back in the 1930s light beams were used to measure the height of clouds, now almost 100 years later, light beams shot out from drones have opened up new possibilities in the field of surveying and mapping. The integration of LiDAR has completely changed the way businesses collect, analyse and interpret geospatial data. In this guide, we will explore the huge potential of drone LiDAR technology and how it is helping to propel industries such as construction, asset management and urban planning.

Understanding LiDAR Technology

LiDAR, short for Light Detection And Ranging, is a remote sensing technology which uses laser pulses to measure distances to generate highly accurate 3D models of the environment or object. By emitting laser beams and analysing the returned signals, LiDAR sensors capture detailed information on elevation, topography, and objects. LiDAR was originally reserved for exceptional projects which required experts and highly specialised equipment to emit and capture the light pulses. Now the very same methods are available to anyone through the use of drone enabled LiDAR sensors, such as the DJI Zenmuse L1, and we’re only going to see the integration of LiDAR on more future drones as the technology becomes more accessible and cost-effective.  

What are Digital Twins?

Digital twins are soft copies of a physical object, or digital representations of real world objects and environments. By combining LiDAR data with other sensors such as RGB (visual) cameras, digital twins can be created with amazing levels of accuracy and detail. These virtual replicas can serve as dynamic and interactive models which represent their real world counterparts.

Advantages of Drone LiDAR in Digital Twin Creation

Drone LiDAR captures millions of data points per second, resulting in dense and highly accurate point clouds. With such accurate models of the physical environment, engineers, owners, and experts are afforded enhanced decision making and analysis abilities due to the realistic simulation that can be undertaken on the model. 

With such a highly accurate model architects, engineers and stakeholders can interact with the digital twin, visualise proposed changes, and test difference scenarios virtually. This iterative design approach reduces costs, time, improves efficiency and minimises potential risks with physical modifications. 

Applications of Drone LiDAR Digital Twins

Construction and Infrastructure Development

Digital twins help facilitate efficient project planning, scheduling, and monitoring in construction and infrastructure development. Stakeholders can assess design feasibility, simulate construction sequences, and optimise resource allocation. Real time updates from the digital twin through repeated drone captures of the digital twin allow accurate progress tracking, reducing delays and ensuring project success.

 

Urban Planning and Management

Digital twins assist in urban planning and management by providing insights into the surrounding landscape as LiDAR has the ability to record distances and elevation. This results in a complete topographic 3D model that measurements can be made off to allow planners and engineers to analyse planning impacts and performance by simulating different planning scenarios. Helping stakeholders make informed decisions for sustainable and efficient urban planning.

LiDAR
 

Asset Maintenance and Management

Having a virtual copy of assets assist owners and engineers to visualise the condition of the asset remotely, understanding the requirements of proactive or reactive maintenance plans. Asset conditions can be collected and overtime an understanding of the degradation can be assumed to allow predictive maintenance, minimising asset downtime, and optimising performance. A portfolio of digital assets also allows owners to understand the portfolio asset value and enhance sale prospects.

 

Conclusion

The rapidly growing accessibility to LiDAR enabled drones is revolutionising industries far and wide. With digital twins, the huge potential for stakeholders to seize the valuable insights through highly accurate interactive digital replicas to optimise processes, understand asset conditions, and make informed decisions is only growing as an essential requirement to businesses. 

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