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Shedding Light on LIDAR

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

—Houston, Texas

With today’s ever-increasing use of technology, we can see 3D models through a simple flat computer screen. LIDAR systems can help us observe objects or areas in more detail. LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It uses light in the form of a rapidly pulsing laser to measure distances from a relative point. A vertically tilted mirror spins to reflect the laser at a rapid rate in a horizontal 360-degree motion in order to scan the surroundings and obtain different angles. Light reflects off a surface and a scanner picks up those photons that traveled and bounced off of those surfaces. To measure the distance, a sensor records the time the flashing beam of light is reflected from the surface it encounters. Light will continue to travel until an object is in the way. For example, if the scanner reads the reflection of photons in a short amount of time, then an object is near the scanner.


Each pulse of light creates an individual point. When the ranges of the laser's pulses are added with the position and orientation of data, a 3D graph is created with the coordinates of X, Y, and Z. Angles are scanned, calibrated, and the GPS receiver creates a group of elevation points called a point cloud. The point cloud has three-dimensional coordinates and contours, which can create details in the 3D models. The functions of the light pulses, scanner, and specialized GPS receiver generate the three-dimensional information about the surroundings of a point.

point cloud, LIDAR, coordinate points, XYZ graph, light detection and ranging
A point cloud is created to show the topography of a forest

LIDAR is often used for mapping out a variety of locations. In addition, LIDAR is used in our phones to locate where we are, spatial recognition for autonomous cars, Augmented Reality, landing spacecraft on different landing sites, and even scanning terrains of other planets. This technology allows us to observe events without being there. Therefore, LIDAR allows scientists and mapping professionals to examine natural and manmade environments, which may help predict natural disasters, plan builds, discover new archeologic sites, and many more scientific applications.


LIDAR, self-driving cars, autonomous cars, object detection. light detection and ranging
A LIDAR system is mounted on top of a self-driving car
Scan and detect these STEM·E events within your range!

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