I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts/opinions/technical knowledge concerning terrain-mapping from a drone. I'm curious about it, but it seems like the only thing lidar is being used for is aerial navigation like this MIT is doing here: http://youtu.be/5qQJwLJ857s 

The closest thing I could find to what I'm thinking is this 3D mapping demo from the UK: 

I've obviously seen the Electro-optic lidar system and the Hokuyo photo sensors, but would either be enough to terrain-map with accuracy of a couple inches from 20-30 meters up? 

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Hi Jacob,

I'm also interested in this application.  I've started a DIY Drones discussion group in hopes of finding like-minded people.  The main application I'm interested in is in modeling man-made structures in CAD.


I too am interested in this. I am looking to buy a UAV/camera set-up for high-resolution GIS-compatible aerial imagery and elevation products. I do know that LIDAR equipment can be very expensive. I know one man in my area who actually has a Leica Geosystems camera/LIDAR package in his Cessna 206. The camera/LIDAR unit alone cost $1.8 million. Soooo...my guess is that getting a LIDAR unit for a drone isn't going to be a cheap endeavor.

The research I have been doing all points to sites like Drone Mapper for aerial imagery and elevation analysis of UAV/drone imagery. Even if you can't get absolute elevation from their DSMs (and I am not sure you can't) all one would need is a few GCPs taken with a survey-grade GPS (i.e. Trimble...expensive to buy but you can rent one for a reasonable daily rate) to obtain VERY accurate elevations and contours from the Drone Mapper DSMs. That's the route I plan to go first. It makes getting into this thing considerably cheaper in terms of initial capital expenditures.

The issue you have of course is legality that $1.8 mil bit of kit can be mapping hundreds of square km in transit to your area of interest. You can only legally map a box within VLOS in each flight.

Small Lidars sub 5kg in weight are sub $10,000 these days. No doubt several will be on display at AUVSI 12.

I am aware of this, Gary. VLOS changes with location and elevation, no? Here in NW Louisiana, VLOS might be 500 feet from the ground or it might be a mile or more depending on what hill an observer might be standing on.

The point I was trying to make with the Leica kit is that LIDAR isn't cheap to get into as evidenced by your $10,000 figure for a small system. I am aware that a LIDAR unit on a UAV wouldn't be capable of producing the same quality data as the Leica system is, but it would likely be good data nonetheless.

Admittedly, I am little more than a beginner with drones/UAVs, but I am a very experienced GIS analyst. I have over 10 years in the field with specialties in remote sensing (i.e. multi-spectral aerial or satellite imagery and classified LIDAR data analysis) and GPS field techniques and their integration with mobile GIS data collection. In other words, I know a little about remote sensing, PARTICULARLY the use of LIDAR for aerial surveying, mapping, and volumetric analysis.

So...with that said, I will ask you what LIDAR units you are referring to that are sub 5kg for less than $10000. I would REALLY be interested in seeing a sample dataset from one of them. I am sure they produce good quality data, but in remote sensing and GPS, you definitely get what you pay for.

Ken, I too am in a similar situation as yourself with 15 years experience in aerial mapping from traditional photogrammetry using diapositives to LiDAR field processing.
A UAV carrying around a 5kg payload would need to be of significant size. Would you expect this to be a fixed wing or are you looking at a hexa/octo setup?

A LiDAR unit costing around $10k would actually be realitively inexpensive and no rest days for the pilot or 50 hour checks needing to be done when on a field job.
Flying lower would also virtually eliminate the standby days due to low cloud base.

I'm interested in building a UAV to survey small sites e.g. quarries, bridges, archaelogical, etc. This, I feel, is where a UAV would be a very useful tool for an aerial surveying company.

Sorry I cannot add any more info on a LiDAR unit but will follow this thread and add input when I can.

Hi Adrian.

As of right now, I am looking at a fixed-wing UAV. We have been researching this for some time now and have even used a couple of rotary UA's only to find that they don't seem to provide the in-flight stability to produce quality imagery. We would be using it to do aerial surveying of areas ranging from 1 to 9 square miles at a time. Our interests are mainly in the petroleum exploration and production sector, but my side projects include a much more broad field of interests including coastal/marine surveys and litigation support for several attorneys in my region. The LIDAR equipment would be wonderful in that we could create very high quality surveys that lend themselves to volumetric analyses and construction planning for roads and real estate development.

I'll PM you my contact information. Perhaps there is an opportunity for some collaborative work in this arena. (Tried to PM you my contact info but was blocked by a friend request window.)

What exactly are you looking for? the system or the technical info? Well if your platform can lift Sick laser range finder like this one I can help with mapping. 

Lidars are expansive, try Depth Cameras or (Ranging, RGB-D Cameras)  here is the link fir the light LIDAR range 70 meters  also recomend reading this article


Lidar survey from uav is possible. Check this out:


Hi Adrian. I have been into this expensive experiment too. I bought an HDL32E Lidar which performs well. But I need something more. It is barely one kilo and can easily be carried by my gasser heli which has autonomous flight with IMU stabilization. I am thinking of selling this to build a larger heli that can carry much bigger Lidars.

You don't need a LIDAR for terrain mapping from sUAS and in fact it's probably not the best option right now, given the cost/size requirements. Check out this post made by JP from Dronemapper, great analysis of the accuracy of building terrain models using only images.

Hello LiDAR discussion groupies,

Just to throw in my two cents, I'm looking at LiDAR enabled UAS' for forestry and archaeology purposes, as well as others. Both of these tasks, for me, occur under/in varying levels and densities of canopy and LiDAR provides a means by which one can remove the canopy in order to get to bare earth and/or use various returns in order to analyze the forest structure. I am not aware of any other tool that will allow me to do that at this time other than going out and surveying the site in question manually.

The idea of the UAS, obviously, is to be able to aerially survey an area that is larger and more efficiently than one can accomplish manually yet smaller than required for a tradition aerial survey thereby be more cost effective. Cost effectiveness is accomplished by economy of scale as well as relative cheapness of the UAS and equipment when compared to traditional manned aircraft with aerial photography and/or LiDAR equipment.

Baring the the above in mind, it is my thought that LiDAR mounted on a UAS can be very useful in determining forest stand types, structure, change, biomass, volume, health and growth to name a few applications that normal photogrammetry techniques can't accomplish at least not alone. Together, however, I think they could be very powerful and deployed at a very reasonable price depending of course on the price of the various components including camera, LiDAR and associated software that can do the required analysis.

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