The top five applications for Lidar beyond the automotive market (Reader Forum)
It’s clear that lidar technology will play a pivotal role in the automotive market, transforming the way we navigate with the advent of autonomous vehicles and shuttles. Aside from its impact on the automotive space, lidar also has the potential to revolutionize a number of different industries with its high resolution scanning, detection and classification capabilities. In fact, lidar solutions will play a pivotal role in delivering on the promise of the IoT – increasing safety, productivity and efficiency across a wide variety of applications for smart cities and beyond.
Here are the top five most promising industries and use cases for lidar beyond automotive.
1. Transport infrastructure: It will take more than on-vehicle sensors to make autonomous driving a reality. Lidar technology can be deployed in many sectors of the transport infrastructure industry to help map out the future of mobility. One use case for lidar in transport infrastructure is automated road tolling. With its ability to profile and classify objects moving at highway speeds, lidar technology can enable road tolling systems and other transport infrastructure to accurately identify different types of vehicles and charge them the appropriate rates. In addition to classifying vehicles, lidar can measure the size of a tow hitch and trailer traveling down a highway in real time, or pinpoint the location of a vehicle license plate. These systems will enable local municipalities to save on installation costs and also bring in new revenue generation opportunities.
Lidar can also be integrated into smart intersection systems to provide extensive data for increased safety and optimization of traffic flow, bringing us one step closer to building a smart city. While lidar installed on a vehicle can help it better navigate by detecting objects around it within a short to medium range, lidar installed at road intersections can see further ahead to provide vehicles with information about traffic, accidents and other potential dangers. That makes lidar a crucial component driving the future of autonomous vehicles.
For the rail industry, lidar can help identify objects entering danger zones. If a car is crossing into a railroad track, for example, or someone falls off the platform, lidar-enabled security systems can quickly detect the issue, classify the obstruction (i.e. if it’s an object or a person) and immediately raise an alarm to notify the operator. Thanks to the high accuracy of the lidar point cloud data and its ability to provide information about distance and velocity, false positives can be reduced so that operators will know whether to take action when something is detected. This will help prevent accidents and keep transit systems up and running by avoiding unnecessary pauses.
In addition, lidar sensors can be installed on trains to scan railway tracks to identify parts that need maintenance. Lidar can also be deployed at sea ports to profile containers to evaluate damage and prevent loss of assets.
2. Security systems: Compared to traditional security systems, lidar has a high tolerance to electromagnetic interference and provides high resolution and 3D imaging regardless of lighting conditions. Lidar provides true 3D data so that it can tell not only what enters an area, but also where something is and how fast it is moving.
Lidar is extremely accurate so it can reduce the number of false positives, which will significantly reduce the costs incurred when security staff is sent over to flagged locations to verify every single alarm. Additionally, lidar can be integrated with edge computing devices with built-in perception software to offer immediate 3D visualization of point cloud data and perception. While many intelligent security systems now rely on analyzing huge volumes of data captured on video, lidar-based systems transmit a fraction of the data information a video would and process that data quickly at the edge, easing the burden of data storage and network bandwidth charges.
Lidar is extremely efficient when deployed for perimeter monitoring and intrusion detection. Power substations, for instance, can use lidar for monitoring without having to worry about electromagnetic interference from metal construction, which affects the reliability of radar and other microwave sensing technologies. Operators can define and customize intrusion zones easily with perception software, making it simple to integrate and configure security systems for different environments and scenarios.
Lidar can work hand in hand with existing security solutions, filling the gap of medium range detection. It can help a radar-based security system confirm whether there is a false or nuisance alarm, or be overlaid onto a camera view for clear and instant identification of potential threats. If someone is loitering in a parking lot, for instance, lidar can track their behavior, identify their location and trigger a camera to turn on for closer surveillance; operators can then further verify whether the flagged object is a threat.
What makes lidar revolutionary in the security space is that the anonymized data it provides will address rising concerns about data privacy. There’s a growing demand for technology solutions that better protect people’s privacy and data, and lidar will usher in a new era of anonymized surveillance that allows operators to zero in on possible security issues in a way other technology cannot. Unlike traditional security systems that capture everyone’s face and keep the data on video storage, lidar-based systems can detect, track and classify potential threats while still preserving the anonymity of those not involved in a suspicious incident. This will be extremely helpful for venues with specific customer groups that are even more data privacy sensitive, such as theme parks for children.
Integrated into existing security systems, lidar can help secure critical infrastructure, airports, educational and financial institutions and a wide range of public venues, where large crowds of people can have both their safety and their data privacy well protected.
3. Mapping: Lidar integrated into drones can be an essential tool for highly accurate 3D aerial mapping. This will help us better understand the world around us by providing valuable information about places that are difficult for humans to reach.
For archaeologists, lidar mapping can reveal helpful information about ancient ruins and historical landmarks to better understand our past. Lidar is even able to tell whether there is a breakage in the structure of a historical building so that action can be taken to restore it and prevent further damage.
Lidar is also useful for creating 3D maps of coastlines, forests and other types of land so local governments and organizations can better understand the environmental makeup of an area and identify issues such as shrinkage of vegetation and erosion. In other cases, lidar is being used by first responders to gain critical, real-time information about an area after a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood or tsunami. Combining its abilities to map the environment and to track humans, lidar can be useful in post-disaster assessment and rescue as well.
Other types of use cases include urban planning and mapping utility assets. In an urban area, 3D maps can provide valuable information about buildings, trees and infrastructure which could be useful for city planners or construction crews. For mapping utility assets, lidar is an ideal solution to survey pipelines, powerlines and other types of infrastructure so companies can operate more efficiently.
4. Agriculture: Lidar technology will be instrumental in pushing forward precision agriculture. We’ll see lidar implemented into farming equipment to increase safety, precision and efficiency. Experts can use lidar technology to determine the soil type and soil content of a specific area. This will help farmers make more informed decisions about what farming practices to conduct on their property and what type of fertilizer should be used. Soil erosion can also be prevented using data from lidar scanning, as lidar can provide accurate information about the terrain and contours of a farm.
Lidar can also be used for crop analysis, providing information about crop quality to help farmers understand how well a specific type of crop is growing and whether there is any damage. Farmers can then rely on lidar to predict crop growth to increase overall yields.
Additionally, lidar will enable tractors and combines to navigate more precisely to improve efficiency. Since lidar enables perception day and night, farming operations can be extended into the nighttime to get more done each season. Lidar will also reduce accidents, detecting if a person is in a vehicle’s path to keep workers safe.
5. Mining: Lidar can be used in many different ways for mining operations to help increase the efficiency, productivity and safety of mining. Lidar can be integrated into mining machines to help the giant vehicles better navigate through tunnels and keep people safe. Load scanning can also be accomplished with lidar to provide information about how much material is in a vehicle.
Aerial mapping of a mining site is another way lidar can generate useful information for mining companies. With a 3D aerial map, operators can see valuable information about areas that have already been mined and areas they are evaluating.
Lidar sensors can also be installed on mining sites to detect staff entering danger zones, or count whether the number of people going out of a tunnel matches the number of people going into it. If a mine collapse happens, lidar can help rescuers survey the accident so they can rescue those who have been affected.
Lidar is clearly a game-changer and has huge potential to positively impact many industries with its extremely accurate 3D perception data. Mass market adoption remains the biggest hurdle; key factors to ensure the adoption of lidar are performance, reliability and cost. High resolution imaging is extremely important to provide users with the most accurate data possible. Reliability is also essential to ensure lidar works over long periods of time, particularly for industrial applications. And while lidar was traditionally expensive, the latest technological innovations – which are helping lidar companies achieve higher resolution, longer rage and wider field of view without having to rely on the use of rare and expensive materials – enable lidar to be produced at scale at lower costs.
These five applications are being tested, evaluated and implemented across the globe, and in the coming months and years we’ll only see the adoption of lidar continue to grow across sectors. Lidar will be truly instrumental in smart cities, helping to solve some of the big-ticket issues in our world today: reducing traffic accidents and saving lives, protecting people’s privacy while increasing security measures, increasing farming efficiency to feed the growing global population, and much more. The lidar revolution is only beginning, and we can’t wait to see how lidar continues to drive forward the IoT in the future.