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What is LiDAR and What is it For?

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: November 1st, 2022·3.1 min read·

If you’ve spent time researching or talking about automation, quality control, automated or any range of other machine vision applications, you might be asking, what is LiDAR? LiDAR is an acronym for “light direction and ranging”. It’s a powerful technology for measuring relative distance, and it’s an increasingly common element in a wide range of IoT and Industry 4.0 projects.

How does LiDAR work?

A LiDAR system bounces eye-safe laser pulses off of objects to locate and measure them. A laser beam transmitter emits the light, which is returned to a receiver. At that point calculations are made by a LiDAR Processing Unit (LPU), like the ones created by OnLogic customer, Flasheye. LiDAR systems share many common elements with traditional radar, but the wavelength of light used is thousands of times shorter than the shortest radar wavelengths. This allows super accurate results to be delivered very quickly.

LiDAR relies on the Time of Flight (ToF) principle. Laser light is emitted at time t-0, hits an object, and the reflected light is then measured at time t-1. Because the speed of light is a known quantity, the measured interval can be converted into a precise distance. In addition, by calculating how much light returns to the sensors, the size and shape of objects can also be determined.

What does LiDAR measure?

LPUs use the information they gather from LiDAR sensors to calculate distance, size, and shape to create 3D maps or inform actions in a process. In the case of Flasheye, their solution monitors conveyor belts in the mining industry. Using optimal performance models as a reference, their devices can identify deviations in conveyor performance and alert operators. These alerts can be used to generate maintenance plans, protecting workers from potentially dangerous conditions and optimizing operational output.

LiDAR is becoming a popular solution for automated measurement applications that don’t need, or don’t want to capture full resolution image or video data. Because it only measures relative distance, users concerned about personal privacy and anonymity can collect actionable data without also capturing identifying information. As a result, security and surveillance applications using LiDAR are becoming increasingly popular. This is particularly true in Europe where GDPR privacy laws impact some types of traditional security monitoring

What is LiDAR used for?

What is LiDAR? The path to Industry 4.0

The automotive industry has driven (no pun intended) much of the interest in LiDAR in the last decade or so. Many modern safety features found in cars and trucks rely on LiDAR. In addition, autonomous vehicles utilize the technology to identify and avoid obstructions, other vehicles and people. 

There are a host of other applications that are finding ways to benefit from super-fast, hyper-accurate measurement data. According to ABI Research, the number of LiDAR sensors used outside of the automotive industry is expected to reach 16 million by 2030. Some of these use cases include:

  • Architecture/Construction: Building Information Modeling (BIM)
  • Smart Agriculture: Precision Farming and Autonomous Equipment
  • Smart Cities: Mobile devices for Managing City Infrastructure/Assets
  • Energy: Tree Encroachment Detection for Power Transmission Lines
  • Manufacturing: Quality Assurance Defect Detection
  • Mining: Hazard Detection, Mineral Exploration, and Extraction Monitoring

Looking forward

LiDAR’s appeal across industry has led to continued development and expansion upon its capabilities. In addition to measuring 3D position, emerging 4D LiDAR technology will also provide simultaneous velocity data, opening up new application possibilities. Those installations, and those already being deployed, will increasingly require LPUs to be installed outside of climate controlled areas. OnLogic industrial and rugged computers are built to stand up to challenging conditions. If you’re working on implementing a LiDAR solution, connect with our team today to see how we can help.

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About the Author: Darek Fanton

Darek is the Communications Manager at OnLogic. His passion for both journalism and technology has led him from the newsrooms of local papers to the manufacturing floor of IBM. His background in news gathering has him always on the lookout for the latest in emerging tech and the best ways to share that information with readers. In addition to his affinity for words, Darek is a music lover, juggler and huge fan of terrible jokes.
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