We've been working on a laser scanner that is light enough to be carried by a small drone. Click on the image above to see a short video of the scanning action. This prototype is based on the SF30/C and an extremely lightweight motor drive. Four slip rings are carrying power, alarm and an analog image that is updating at 2000 readings per second. The unit gives saturated laser coverage to detect even narrow obstacles.

The 'scope trace below shows the distance (yellow) and alarm (blue) outputs for a 360 degree scan. Straight forwards is in the middle of the trace.


The alarm has been set to pick up the four narrow poles spaced around the center of the scan. The unit can measure out to a radius of 100m and draws less than 500mA at 5V during operation. Interfacing is easily done by either monitoring the digital alarm or collecting analog results in order to draw SLAM maps.

This scanning laser can be used for accurate positioning in complex indoor or outdoor environments or for obstacle detection whilst the drone is operating close to the ground.

We will be packaging this prototype over the next few months and plan to release it with a retail price of US$999.00

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  • This project is going very well. We've upgraded some of the features to get it closer to mapping precision although obstacle detection remains the main application for now. I'll be posting more information in the next few weeks and all our new products including laser scanning, corridor sensing and mult-beam lasers can be seen at the InterDrone show in Las Vegas in September.
  • How's the laser scanning coming?  I think I saw you were working on a 3 beam system as well.  The big trees are still here...  We'd love to do some testing!

  • LOL! Big trees in Canada? Surely not :) You're absolutely right, the new scanner is perfect for locating trees during a low speed mapping mission.

  • This would be a no brainer on our 1300mm X8 with a Phoenix AL3.  The AL3 in limited to mapping well under 100m, so this would be a great investment for anti-collision.  We've got big trees around here!

  • Technically still a step motor. What's the part number and price ? I am looking for something similar for a completelly different project

  • @Michal raised the question about DJI's new ultrasonic obstacle avoidance sensor. I make a point of not commenting on other products because I prefer our products to stand on their own merits. So to be clear, I know absolutely nothing about what DJI has done to make their sensors work differently from the many other ultrasonic devices that are out there.

    That having been said, I used to run a company that manufactured both laser and ultrasonic range finding devices. It was a fantastic experience to be able to compare the performance of these different technologies and my conclusion was that ultrasonic technology can indeed be made to work, but not in all situations. Without considerable experience, it is extremely difficult to be certain about the suitability of an ultrasonic range finding product for a particular application or situation.

    My fear is that using a fundamentally limited technology for the purposes of UAV safety will have tragic consequences. Noise, vibration, wind, echoes, doppler shift, acoustically absorptive or reflective surfaces and a myriad of other environmental dynamics make it impossible to say for certain that an ultrasonic device will indeed detect the obstacle ahead. If that obstacle is you, then please get out of the way.

    Cheers, LD.

  • @Simon - thanks for the info. We're not happy about using spinning optical parts for collision avoidance applications. We think that dust is going to be a factor affecting the performance especially after a number of take-off / landing cycles. The default measuring strategy for effective obstacle detection is to look for the first significant return signal and dusty optics can lead to false readings. However, for a high speed mapper we will keep this option open.

    @ Michal - thanks for the positive response! There's lots to be done on the system integration side so we need more time to complete this process. The SF30 can easily detect power lines but the scanning pattern for position hold adjacent to power lines is different from the one used in this model. Our next scanner handles this situation very well and is already under development but it doesn't handle wide area mapping.

    @Marcus - thank you!

    @Martin - this is a very tricky topic and there is clearly a lot of work ongoing in this area. We are watching progress carefully and will make a commercial decision based on the price and availability of the best technology. If nothing spectacular emerges by late 2016 we will probably start looking at a laser based positioning system.

  • @johnkowalski - nice try but that's too heavy. Here's the secret: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/?title=Piezoelectric_motor
    Piezoelectric motor - Wikipedia
  • For mapping the system should be accompanied by vey accurate and high sampling rate GNSS and IMU.

    That part can be much more expensive than the sensor itself. Do you have anything in the works that would solve this problem?

  • Soooo.... are you using a geared step motor?

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