For more than five decades, LiDAR is being used in land surveying. Earlier surveying used to be conducted mostly using airborne LiDARs as the scanners were quite heavy. Compilation of survey data then required an airplane with an entire team managing it. This is quite expensive and requires a lot of manpower, so only big government agencies could afford it. For others, there were very few alternatives other than totally relying on the data provided by the official agencies.
In UK, the Environmental Agency has been organizing LiDAR surveys since many years, gradually increasing the coverage for free on the website. Data for forestry and flood management and can be used by farming, archaeology and construction. But the data is not high-resolution and detailed and so it’s not reliable enough, which makes its use restrictive.
However, the picture is changing with the advent of new LiDAR scanners in the market, which are lightweight, inexpensive and can be carried on a normal drone. These scanners are also simpler to operate than ever. This also provides private players the liberty to fly their own drones and conduct surveying for them, without relying on any other agency.
While, as of now, mostly big construction companies are making use of LiDAR scanners for their own surveying needs, but as costs further reduce with technological upgradation, democratization of LiDAR surveying would be kick-started, empowering small companies and others to embark on their own surveying. This would be a true game-changer and would lead to many new solutions for a lot of domains.
An analogy could be drawn with the mainstreaming of remote sensing technology in metal detectors, which were originally deployed to locate landmines. But today the use extends in multiple fields. This became possible only due to drastic cost reduction over the years coupled with technological enhancement. Similarly, the less expensive LiDAR scanners will get, more would be an expansion in the business.
Autonomous cars are expected to contribute to the proliferation of LiDAR technology as LiDAR literally enables an autonomous vehicle to see objects in its vicinity. LiDAR embedded on a single chip has been specially made for self-driving vehicles. These LiDARs are manufactured using solid-state lasers.
LiDARs that are used in autonomous vehicles have to be highly accurate and precise and they would soon find applications in other areas including surveying, once the cost of production goes down. Right now these sensors are prohibitively expensive but the costs would decrease when autonomous cars disrupt the automobile sector. Though currently, these high-resolution sensors are fundamentally different from the ones that are used in surveying but they can later be modified for different uses.