Geospatial data has been collected for centuries and is often represented in 2D, 3D and even in 4D. Instrumentation and software to collect 3D data have changed significantly in the past 10 years. LiDAR/laser scanning from the air and the ground is the biggest of the developments and has become the most preferred technique of collecting 3D data. There are several unique technologies like full waveform processing that offer users unrivaled accuracy, completeness of information and operational competitiveness. The cutting edge technological capabilities available today are allowing users to explore new markets and services.
For example, there are bathymetric laser scanners now available that combine topographic and hydrographic airborne laser scanning, high speed data acquisition rates and full waveform processing. Historically, such systems were so expensive that only governments could afford them. But today, the overall price objective for such systems has been achieved and they are now a tool for commercial purposes.
Airborne laser scanning is witnessing interesting developments. There are systems, for example, that allow operating altitudes up to 2,450 m above ground level at 400 KHz, which significantly increases acquisition efficiency and point density in wide area mapping applications, as well as operational safety for the aircraft crew in mountainous areas. Data acquisition in airborne laser scanning at high measurement rates from high altitudes implicitly results in ranging ambiguities, an effect known as “multiple-time-around” (MTA). Instruments with multiple-time around capability can handle up to 10 pulses in the air simultaneously: with the dedicated software for fully automated range ambiguity resolution, a unique technology is developed which is also the basis for future generations of high repetition rate laser scanners.
Based on the demand of the application, compact airborne laser scanners can be installed in a variety of platforms, like fixedwing planes, helicopters and also UAVs. The UAV segment is definitely emerging and will have its important position in the future.
The applications in 3D data acquisition are evolving rapidly. With terrestrial laser scanners, crash scene investigation, construction work, open-pit mining and monitoring and a host of other applications are possible. Latest technology in mobile laser scanners is delivering unrivaled point density and accuracy.
These systems are being used in surveying and documenting road networks and in railway applications. Applications for airborne laser scanners range from glacier and snowfield mapping to agricultural and forestry applications, along with the continuing demands of wide area and corridor mapping. Moreover, combined topographic and hydrographic surveying is set to grow in the future. In industrial scanning, today there are robust, reliable and high performance solutions available for the demanding and harsh environments users work in.
We can observe two main strains for development. Regarding software, there is an obvious demand for enhanced extraction algorithms of information from the point cloud. There is a wide range of applications using point clouds as source data for information extraction, for instance traffic sign recognition, or break line detection.
On the hardware side, there is a clear trend to integrated solutions with various kinds of sensors such as aerial cameras, thermal imaging, or specialised sensors for road assessments.
With respect to the scanner hardware itself, we believe a broader spectrum of available wavelengths will provide perfect tools for the geospatial industry to open completely new fields of applications.