Lidar for terrain-mapping

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: 

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 Lidar followers,

    It has been a while since my first post on the forum (November 13, 2012).

    During that time we have been developing our prototype, starting selling the first units and now we are supporting our professional customer world wide in their every-day operation.

    I have been told on this forum that this kind of system is too expensive, however our customers understand its value. It help them to collect highly accurate data in a few minutes for some projects that would have taken days with traditional methods (mainly in the topography field).

    Please check this out: and feel free to contact us for more information.

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    There are a handful of LiDAR mapping drones out there right now. I don't have any first-hand experience with them, though.  In my opinion, they're currently still cost-prohibitive and require a little more expertise than the simple photogrammetry drones.  The imaging mapping drones only recently got over the "hump" where they're easy enough to operate for wide adoption.  We are (again, in my opinion) right at the cusp of the same event for LiDAR drones.  

    From what I've seen, all of them currently require a base station or VRS.  Here's a common one I've seen around-

    I also saw these guys at interdrone - 


  • Since this thread was started a few years ago, much cheaper equipment has become available.  For example, Garmin now offer a LIDAR rangefinder for about $150:

    AND a tiny GPS unit for about £200:

    Very cheap LIDAR on a chip is promised, but it's about two years away.

    HOWEVER, my particular interest is producing contour maps.  The rangefinder knows its distance from the ground to within about 5cm, but the GPS unit only knows where it is to within about 15m, or maybe 3m if you are in the USA (which I am not) and can use the more accurate WAAS.  Either way, that's not accurate enough.  To make an accurate measurement of the distance to ground useful for a contour map, you need to know your position, height above sea level and beam orientation with equal accuracy.

    Does anybody know of any technology that will allow you to measure all that with sufficient accuracy to do detailed mapping?  For example, using markers of some kind on the ground.

    Garmin LIDAR-Lite v3 | GPS Sensors
    When space and weight requirements are tight, the LIDAR-Lite v3 soars. It’s the ideal compact, high-performance optical distant measurement sensor so…
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Hi,

    Lidar survey from uav is possible. Check this out:

  • 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

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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. 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.

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