When you hear “LiDAR,” are autonomous vehicles the first thing that comes to your mind? With this sensor at the forefront of autonomous driving, it’s no wonder that LiDAR is mostly associated with futuristic cars.
What you might not know is that it is also used in environmental monitoring, agriculture, archeology, mapping and other industries. In fact, when it enters industries like healthcare, behavioral analytics and robotics, LiDAR has the potential to change the way we perceive the world and interact with it. Let’s find out what industries already use this technology to their benefit and what we can expect from LiDAR in the future.
Overview of the LiDAR market and its growth drivers
LiDAR is adopted by a growing number of industries every year, especially engineering, construction, environment and exploration, proving the effectiveness and, therefore, demand for this technology. In 2019, the LiDAR market size was $844 million, and, according to Grandview’s research, it’s projected to reach $2.273 million by 2024. That’s quite a growth, but what is driving it?
Automation across industries
LiDAR powers the automation of many industries. It transforms the security area, enabling companies to identify threats and program the appropriate alarms. In the agriculture industry, LiDARs are used for automated tractor steering solutions and surveying fields with drones. And Amazon already uses LiDARs, cameras and photography to create digital maps of neighborhoods, which it uses to test its delivery robots.
The rising accuracy of LiDAR
It’s no secret that LiDAR is one of the most precise technologies used for surveying. LiDAR scanners can have an accuracy of 5 mm and collect data up to 2,500 meters (1.5 miles) away, which makes them perfect for speed guns. Laser guns are very accurate — some have an accuracy to 1 mile per hour for vehicles traveling up to 60 miles per hour. They also allow police to target a specific vehicle, even on a busy multiple-lane highway.
The demand for 3D imagery
3D image data is on the rise, which makes LiDAR mapping popular in:
- oil and gas exploration (for 3D modeling of terrains)
- architecture (for creating virtual 3D representations of the projects)
- cartography and agriculture (for plant detection and mapping for agricultural robots).
Increasing usage of drones
A drone is no longer just something your 10-year-old nephew wants for his birthday. Professional, LiDAR-powered drones are gaining popularity across industries like aerospace, defense, forestry, transportation and logistics. The data collected through LiDAR drones is reliable and accurate, which means the LiDAR drone market continually develops. It’s projected to reach $229.55 million by 2025.
Velodyne LiDAR has recently partnered with Nikon’s Sendai to mass-produce LiDAR sensors and make the technology more affordable while retaining the high standards. On top of that, according to IDTechEx, the price of 3D LiDARs are due to fall thanks to their increased production and adoption.
Industries that use LiDAR
The LiDAR market is developing, and some industries have noticed its potential earlier than others. Let’s take a look at how this sensing technology impacts and transforms the areas it’s applied in.
We can’t stop natural disasters, but we can do our best to predict them and try to minimize the consequences. LiDAR is used to predict the intensity of tsunami, analyze glacier changes, and monitor dune activities and changes in the coastal environment.
For instance, LiDAR sensors help the Canadian environment-monitoring stations detect tropospheric pollution. LiDAR sensors also monitor the ash from volcanic eruptions that can interfere with air travel. We can use this data to localize the damage, evacuate people beforehand and mitigate the outcomes.
Farming is becoming more technologically advanced than before. Maintaining a profitable agricultural business is becoming impossible without technology, and LiDAR’s role is becoming increasingly important. Farmers use LiDAR to map their fields, while LiDAR-equipped drones create digital elevation and vegetation models. Moreover, LiDAR technology allows farms to reduce flooding and provide better drainage by mapping fields.
Landscape analysis and archaeology
What can archeologists do without actually digging? Quite a lot, actually, if they use LiDAR. They use laser mapping to identify hidden objects and structures, plan excavations and find archaeological clues. In fact, LiDAR technology has recently helped find a lost Mayan city that had as many buildings as Manhattan.
A study by Spanish scientists proved that LiDAR data significantly improves the accuracy of land-cover maps. Researchers compared the accuracy of the watershed-scale mapping of vegetation with and without LiDAR data. As it turned out, the accuracy of the annual and seasonal mapping had increased substantially with LiDAR data (from 73% to 83%).
Future opportunities for LiDAR
LiDAR technology development and adoption show no signs of stopping, so it won’t be long until it enters new markets. Here are some of the markets LiDAR is sure to transform.
LiDAR can be used for customer behavior analysis in stores, especially when comparing and buying products. It tracks the customer’s journey from the shop entrance to the checkout, helping businesses improve merchandise and understand how people buy.
LiDAR technology can also be used in sports like football for creating heat maps of team movement, speed and distance between players, which can help trainers come up with better strategies.
Robots have become more than just the workhorses of manufacturing. Today, they are also mobile machines that improve the efficiency of business operations. And they can’t move properly without a LiDAR sensor. In the near future, mobile robots will be engaged in food and grocery delivery, security-issue identification, product scanning, and other activities in agriculture, construction, logging or mining.
IBM Watson offers an in-house health monitoring system with IBM’s machine-learning software and a LiDAR sensor to paint a real-time picture of the daily lives of seniors. With the help of laser light pulses, sensors create detailed images of how elderly patients move and what mobility issues they might have. This monitoring system helps foresee future injuries and create a better recovery program.
On top of that, as LiDAR sensing becomes more advanced, it can be used for interpreting body language and reading facial expressions.
LiDAR gives people the opportunity to transform their lives in a big way. Its gradual price reduction and advancements in security, reliability, accuracy and design will motivate businesses from various industries to adopt LiDAR to stay competitive on the market. After all, who wouldn’t want a parcel delivered to them by a robot?