Ten Questions About Drone LiDAR

You have Drone LiDAR Questions. We have answers.

Over the past two years, drone LiDAR has become increasingly popular in many industries, such as surveying, engineering, inspection, mining, and construction, where the technology can help increase efficiency, accuracy, and profits.

With the launch of Microdrones as a Service, it’s now easier than ever to get started using drone LiDAR with affordable rental and buying options. However, there are still many questions about the technology. Every day we receive emails, phone calls, social media messages, and website inquiries from professionals all over the world asking about drone LiDAR.

Below are ten common questions we receive about drone LiDAR. We aimed to keep these answers as simple as possible, but if you would like to dig into more detail, we encourage you to contact one of our helpful drone experts.

1. What is the basic principle of drone LiDAR technology?

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. LiDAR sensors installed on drones are used to map the surface of the earth in areas with thick vegetation or in applications where the surface is constantly changing.

The main benefit of using LiDAR is it can “see” through the vegetation so you can collect much more detailed data. Drone LiDAR can also collect data in significantly less time than it takes surveyors using photogrammetry methods. A project that would take 2-3 weeks with a traditional survey crew can be completed in just 2-3 days with drone LiDAR. This includes processing.

2. What does drone LiDAR measure?

LiDAR measures the distance from the drone sensor to the ground, allowing the user to map the surface of the earth and create a detailed point cloud and digital surface model. At Microdrones, we like to call our drone LiDAR surveying equipment “the one-foot contour-generating machine.”

Contrarily to photogrammetry, LiDAR can scan any type of surface, even if the surface has a very homogeneous textures, like sand beaches, metal roofs etc.

3. What can drone LiDAR be used for?

 There are a wide variety of applications for which drone LiDAR can be used. The ones we encounter most frequently at Microdrones are:

  • Surveying
  • Land development
  • Construction
  • Monitoring earthen dams
  • Mining
  • Forestry
  • Erosion control and coastal monitoring

Drone LiDAR makes it quicker, easier, safer, and more cost-effective to produce more accurate project bids and monitor changing terrain and inventory.

4. How much does drone LiDAR cost?

Adding drone LiDAR to your surveying equipment toolbox is more affordable than most people think. Microdrones offers options to suit various budgets and scenarios under Microdrones as a Service, where they can choose to BUY or RENT drone surveying equipment. For example, users can choose to buy a new mdLiDAR system — which includes the drone, LiDAR sensor, and the mdCockpit mission planning and control software —for a cost of $35,000. You can then process data using mdInfinity with either unlimited or pay per project payment options. This allows users to better estimate costs upfront, save more time on jobs and provide the latest in drone LiDAR technology.

With Microdrones as a Service, now you can also choose to rent drone LiDAR with monthly payment options as low as $1,300. Many users find renting to be the more appealing option because it allows them to avoid maintenance expenses.

Users can also choose to purchase the equipment and software outright through the Microdrones classic sales program.

5. How much data does drone LiDAR generate?

LiDAR generates significantly less data than photogrammetry, allowing users to process the data in a fraction of the time. Unlike photogrammetry where the processing time can be very long for a relatively small-scale survey, LiDAR point georeferencing is almost immediate. In LiDAR we do not need to store large volumes of data (like in photogrammetry with huge amount of high-resolution images).

The larger the project, the bigger the impact using LiDAR will have on processing timelines.

This efficiency is one of the major advantages drone LiDAR offers for mining, construction, and other applications that require frequent surveying to monitor constantly changing job sites. For instance, miners using drone LiDAR to inventory stockpiles have much less data to deal with, so they can process it in minutes and immediately have useful output.

6. How do I access drone LiDAR data?

It is very simple to access data using Microdrones drone LiDAR surveying equipment. You just take the SD card out of the drone and put it into your laptop, then upload the data to mdInfinity, Microdrones processing software.

7. Is drone LiDAR a GIS?

 No. The drone navigates via GPS and carries a LiDAR sensor that measures and collects data along the way. This data can then be processed and then ready to be integrated into a GIS to be analyzed and visualized for the end user. Microdrones provides mdInfinity to help with the processing of the data to be imported into GIS software.

8. Can Drone Lidar see through trees?

Yes- in most cases depending on the density of the vegetation.LiDAR can reach through vegetation to the earth’s true surface. That is one of the top reasons surveying and construction professionals choose to use drone LiDAR.

LiDAR beams are generally very narrow and can go through vegetation holes meaning the canopy AND the ground can be scanned. However, the ground point density will be lower than the canopy density; In contrast, photogrammetry cannot deliver point clouds of good quality on vegetation with relatively high level of foliage.

9. How accurate is drone LiDAR?

Microdrones offers four different LiDAR systems: mdLiDAR3000LR aaS, mdLiDAR3000 aas, mdLiDAR3000DL aaS and mdLiDAR1000 aaS. All boast impressive accuracy.

The family of mdLiDAR3000 integrated solutions achieves an accuracy of 1-3 cm in x, y, and z. The accuracy of the mdLiDAR1000 system is 5 cm in x, y, and z.

Service providers who would like to or who are required to prove the accuracy of their data to clients can do so by installing a few ground control points to measure and check their accuracy. Otherwise, no ground control points are needed, thanks to the direct georeferencing technology included in these systems.

10. What’s the difference between drone LiDAR and drone photogrammetry?

In general, projects can be completed more quickly with drone LiDAR than with drone photogrammetry methods, although new technology is speeding up the photogrammetric processing time.

Photogrammetry relies on a camera, so you can only collect data as far as that camera can passively see. If you are trying to collect data on the surface of the earth, you will actually be collecting data on the surface of any trees, brush, or tall grasses present.

LiDAR, on the other hand, is a laser scanner that actively senses the true surface of the earth through the vegetation. This allows the user to collect the data necessary to produce a more accurate point cloud and surface model.

LiDAR can also be deployed whatever the light conditions are. A LiDAR strip may be overlapped at anytime, unlike photogrammetry for which lighting conditions should be similar between strips to enable the detection of homologous points between images.

Have questions that weren’t answered here? Contact a member of the Microdrones team to answer all of them. Contact our drone LiDAR experts today.