What are the Benefits and Misconceptions of Drone LiDAR?

Published On: July 11, 2022

As a specialist in drone equipment and software, Matt Rosenbalm educates potential customers on drone-enabled data collection and processing tools. Recently, he was a guest of Randall Warnas on Unmanned Underground to discuss the benefits and misconceptions relating to LiDAR data capture. We’ve summarized their discussion for your convenience, but for the complete interview, see below.


Warnas: Dispel the myths of LiDAR.

Rosenbalm: I think one of the biggest things is the accuracy. There are so many variables when it comes to aerial LiDAR, and you have to remember that it’s not just a scanner. There are so many moving parts, and these parts have an error budget. The LiDAR scanner might be accurate to within 10 millimeters, but the GPS is only accurate within three centimeters.

So, you have to set your expectations of what can be achieved. Most of the time, people are looking for the best accuracy, but that might not be that important if what you’re looking to build are one-foot contours on a topographic map somewhere. Find the sensor that works best for what you’re trying to accomplish.

Matt Rosenbalm answers questions about LiDAR
Matt Rosenbalm answers questions and talks about the benefits and misconceptions relating to Drone LiDAR data collection.

Warnas: How is the capture of LiDAR data different from flying these missions with an RGB camera?

Rosenbalm: They’re relatively the same. However, the biggest difference is that with the LiDAR sensor you have a base station that is logging data. After landing, the GPS data from the scanner will be used to correct the positioning of the data.

Also, if you’re out flying an RGB camera, you’re going to spend hours having your computer crunch the data to stitch those photographs together for a point cloud. With LiDAR, you can produce a point cloud 10 minutes after you land and can begin manipulating the data immediately.

Warnas: What industries are getting the most out of LiDAR?

Rosenbalm: In the beginning, larger surveying and mapping companies were the ones using it the most. But now, smaller firms have seen the timesaving and cost benefits. Instead of spending hours, days, or even weeks cutting through the forest with a machete to get a topographic map, they can use LiDAR to penetrate that canopy of vegetation for ground shots. With LiDAR, you can build a more accurate representation of the terrain.
And using it with a drone is more convenient and affordable than using a helicopter or airplane and paying a pilot. Putting a drone up in the sky to fly those couple of miles for corridor mapping is more practical.

Microdrones provides fully integrated drone surveying equipment and software for geospatial data collection and processing.
Microdrones provides fully integrated drone surveying equipment and software for geospatial data collection and processing.

Warnas: What is the difference between processing the data in your software versus alternatives?

Rosenbalm: In a LiDAR scanner, you have a mix of three components: GPS, scanner, and IMU. Once you start flying missions, if you have a low-quality IMU, you will start to see data misalignments. So, if you're flying a grid survey that has five or six strips from the first strip to the second strip, there might be a jump or a gap between the data. With LP360, a point source ID can be assigned to each strip, and you can determine if you have any misalignments. You can do what we call a strip alignment, which will essentially match strips together.

With our software, you can cut out the noise, enhance the point cloud, and view your exit data. We even have a feature called Image Explorer, which allows you to click anywhere on the LiDAR point cloud and pull up all the images taken in that particular location.


Point cloud created in mdInfinity
A point cloud created in mdInfinity

As the market for LiDAR data collection continues to grow and evolve, more surveying, mapping, and geospatial companies are looking to add this technology to their business. Follow Matt on LinkedIn, and discover more about the benefits and how this technology is evolving. If you’d like to speak to someone about adding it to your workflow now, contact us.