Lidar (light detection and ranging) is an optical remote-sensing technique that uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the earth, producing highly accurate x,y,z measurements. Lidar, primarily used in airborne laser mapping applications, is emerging as a cost-effective alternative to traditional surveying techniques such as photogrammetry.
The major hardware components of a lidar system include a collection vehicle (aircraft, helicopter, vehicle, and tripod), laser scanner system, GPS (Global Positioning System), and INS (inertial navigation system). An INS system measures roll, pitch, and heading of the lidar system.
Lidar is an active optical sensor that transmits laser beams toward a target while moving through specific survey routes. The reflection of the laser from the target is detected and analyzed by receivers in the lidar sensor. These receivers record the precise time from when the laser pulse left the system to when it is returned to calculate the range distance between the sensor and the target. Combined with the positional information (GPS and INS), these distance measurements are transformed to measurements of actual three-dimensional points of the reflective target in object space.
The point data is post-processed after the lidar data collection survey into highly accurate georeferenced x,y,z coordinates by analyzing the laser time range, laser scan angle, GPS position, and INS information.
Post-processed spatially organized lidar data is known as point cloud data. The initial point clouds are large collections of 3D elevation points, which include x, y, and z, along with additional attributes such as GPS time stamps. The specific surface features that the laser encounters are classified after the initial lidar point cloud is post-processed. Elevations for the ground, buildings, forest canopy, highway overpasses, and anything else that the laser beam encounters during the survey constitutes point cloud data.