What is LiDAR? The History and Impact of LiDAR Technology

Lidar aerial uav survey

LiDAR, an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging, is a revolutionary remote sensing technology that utilises laser pulses to determine the distance to an object and generate 3D maps. Although the technology is relatively modern, its fundamental principles date back to ancient Greece and the invention of the first rangefinders. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating history of LiDAR, tracing its evolution over the years. Additionally, we will explore the far-reaching implications of this cutting-edge technology in various fields today.


The earliest known mention of the principle behind Lidar dates back to the ancient Greeks. According to legend, Archimedes used a series of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and set fire to enemy ships during the Siege of Syracuse in 212 BC. This principle, known as “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” (LASER), forms the basis of modern Lidar technology.

The next major milestone in the development of Lidar came in the 18th century with the invention of the first rangefinders. These devices used a combination of mirrors and lenses to measure the distance to a target by bouncing light off it and measuring the time it took for the light to return. The first known rangefinder was invented by Scottish mathematician and astronomer James Watt in 1769, who used it for his canal surveying work.

The invention of the laser in 1960 revolutionised the field of rangefinding, as it allowed for more precise and accurate measurements over longer distances. In 1962, a team of researchers at the Hughes Aircraft Company developed the first Lidar system capable of measuring the distance between the system and a target object. The system used a ruby laser, which emitted pulses of light that were reflected back to the system by the target object. By measuring the time it took for the light pulses to travel to the target and back, the Lidar system could calculate the distance to the object. 

In 1971, a Lidar system was used to measure the distance between the Apollo 15 spacecraft and the moon’s surface. In the following years, Lidar technology continued to develop rapidly, with improvements in laser technology, data processing, and software algorithms. In the 1980s, Lidar began to be used for civilian applications, such as mapping and surveying. The technology was especially useful for creating high-resolution topographic maps and detecting changes in the environment, such as erosion, deforestation, and urbanisation.

In the 1990s, Lidar began to be used for a wider range of applications, including coastal zone mapping, hydrographic surveying, and urban planning. The development of high-speed computers and advanced algorithms also made it possible to process and analyse large amounts of Lidar data.

In the early 2000s, Lidar technology was used in the development of autonomous vehicles. The technology allowed vehicles to create detailed 3D maps of their surroundings, which could be used to navigate and avoid obstacles. Today, Lidar is used in a wide range of applications, including environmental monitoring, agriculture, archaeology, and infrastructure inspection.

One of the most significant developments in the history of Lidar was the development of airborne Lidar systems. Airborne Lidar systems use lasers mounted on aircraft to scan the ground below. This allows for the creation of highly accurate and detailed maps of large areas. Airborne Lidar is now widely used for topographic mapping, forestry management, and urban planning.

Another major development in the history of Lidar was the introduction of terrestrial Lidar systems. Terrestrial v systems use lasers mounted on tripods or vehicles to scan objects and environments from a fixed position. This allows for the creation of highly detailed 3D models of buildings, infrastructure, and archaeological sites. Terrestrial Lidar is now widely used in engineering, construction, and archaeology.

In recent years, Lidar technology has become more affordable and accessible, thanks to the development of compact and lightweight sensors. This has led to the widespread use of Lidar in consumer electronics, such as smartphones and drones. Lidar is now used in a wide range of consumer applications, including augmented reality, virtual reality, and gaming.

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LiDAR Use Cases

Today, Lidar technology is becoming increasingly popular in various industries due to its high level of precision and accuracy. Its information can be used for a wide range of purposes, making lidar an essential tool in industries such as:

  • Mapping and Surveying: Used to create highly accurate 3D maps and models of the environment. Lidar is often used for land surveying, urban planning, and infrastructure development. It can also be used to quickly and accurately map large areas, allowing planners and engineers to make informed decisions about the development of the area.
  • Archaeology: Archaeological surveys use Lidar to map ancient ruins and landscapes. This technology allows archaeologists to create highly detailed 3D models of historical sites, which can be used to study the layout and design of ancient civilisations.
  • Forestry and Agriculture: Lidar benefits forestry and agriculture to create accurate maps of forests and farmland. These maps can be used to identify areas that require attention, such as diseased trees or areas that need irrigation. By using Lidar, farmers and foresters can make informed decisions about where to plant crops or which trees to remove.
  • Self-driving Cars: Lidar is an essential technology for self-driving cars. By using Lidar, self-driving cars can create highly accurate 3D maps of their surroundings, which helps them navigate roads and avoid obstacles. Lidar sensors are often mounted on the roof of self-driving cars, allowing them to see the environment from a high vantage point.
  • Construction: Lidar allows architects and engineers to plan and design buildings with a high level of accuracy. It proves beneficial to monitor the progress of construction projects, ensuring that the work is being done according to plan.
  • Mining and Quarrying: Lidar is used in mining and quarrying to create accurate 3D models of the environment. This technology allows miners and quarry workers to plan and design mining operations with a high level of accuracy.
  • Flood Mapping and Management: Can be used in flood mapping and management to create accurate maps of flood-prone areas. This technology can help emergency services to plan and prepare for floods, allowing them to evacuate residents in advance. Lidar can also be used to create models of how floodwater will behave, allowing planners to design infrastructure that can withstand floods.
  • Aviation: Used in aviation to create 3D models of airports and runways. This this helps airport managers plan and design airports with a high level of accuracy.
  • Environmental Monitoring: Lidar is used in environmental monitoring to create accurate maps of forests, wetlands, and other natural environments. It allows scientists to monitor changes in the environment over time, helping them to identify areas that require attention.
  • Military and Defense: Lidar technology can be used to plan military operations and to identify potential threats by creating models of enemy territory, allowing military planners to develop strategies to overcome potential obstacles.
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LiDAR Services

One company that has been at the forefront of Lidar technology is PointSCAN. Founded in 2016, PointSCAN is a leading provider of Lidar mapping services for a variety of industries, including construction, infrastructure, and environmental monitoring.  PointSCAN’s Lidar services allow clients to capture detailed information about buildings, landscapes, and infrastructure, providing accurate data that can be used for design, construction, and analysis.

One of the primary benefits of Lidar technology is its ability to capture highly accurate data, even in difficult or hard-to-reach locations. PointSCAN’s Faro scanners capture data from distances of up to 300 meters, allowing them to scan tall buildings or hard-to-reach infrastructure. This accuracy is crucial in industries where precise measurements and data are necessary for creating safe and efficient structures.

Once the scan data is captured, PointSCAN processes it to create detailed 3D models that can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, they can create 3D models of buildings for construction planning, inspecting infrastructure, and assessing damage after natural disasters. They can also create 3D models of landscapes for urban planning, environmental monitoring, and resource management.

Another benefit of Lidar technology is its speed and efficiency. Faro scanners can capture up to 976,000 data points per second, allowing them to quickly scan large areas and generate highly detailed 3D models. This efficiency can save clients time and money, as traditional methods of data collection can be time-consuming and expensive.

PointSCAN’s services offer a range of applications, including:

  • Building Information Modeling (BIM) – A process that allows architects and engineers to create detailed 3D models of buildings, which can be used to analyse different design options and detect potential issues before construction.
  • Topographical Surveys – A service that uses Lidar data to create highly accurate maps of the land, which can be used for planning infrastructure projects or assessing natural resources.
  • Asset Management – Utilises Lidar data to create detailed inventories of equipment or infrastructure, allowing organisations to keep track of their assets and plan for maintenance and replacement.


Lidar technology has come a long way since its early days. It has revolutionised the way industries collect and analyse data, providing accurate, efficient, and detailed information. Companies like PointSCAN are leading the way in harnessing its potential for a wide range of applications. With its highly accurate and detailed 3D maps, Lidar is poised to transform industries ranging from construction and infrastructure to environmental monitoring and beyond.

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