A FASOR used at the Starfire Optical Range for LIDAR and laser guide star experiments is tuned to the sodium D2a line and used to excite sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere.
This lidar (laser range finder) may be used to scan buildings, rock formations, etc., to produce a 3D model. The LIDAR can aim its laser beam in a wide range: its head rotates horizontally, a mirror flips vertically. The laser beam is used to measure the distance to the first object on its path.

LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging, also LADAR) is an optical remote sensing technology that can measure the distance to, or other properties of a target by illuminating the target with light, often using pulses from a laser. LIDAR technology has application in geomatics, archaeology, geography, geology, geomorphology, seismology, forestry, remote sensing and atmospheric physics,[1] as well as in airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM), laser altimetry and LIDAR contour mapping.

The acronym LADAR (Laser Detection and Ranging) is often used in military contexts. The term "laser radar" is sometimes used, even though LIDAR does not employ microwaves or radio waves and therefore is not radar in the strict sense of the word.


General description

LIDAR uses ultraviolet, visible, or near infrared light to image objects and can be used with a wide range of targets, including non-metallic objects, rocks, rain, chemical compounds, aerosols, clouds and even single molecules.[1] A narrow laser beam can be used to map physical features with very high resolution.

LIDAR has been used extensively for atmospheric research and meteorology. Downward-looking LIDAR instruments fitted to aircraft and satellites are used for surveying and mapping – a recent example being the NASA Experimental Advanced Research Lidar.[2] In addition LIDAR has been identified by NASA as a key technology for enabling autonomous precision safe landing of future robotic and crewed lunar landing vehicles.[3]

Wavelengths in a range from about 10 micrometers to the UV (ca. 250 nm) are used to suit the target. Typically light is reflected via backscattering. Different types of scattering are used for different LIDAR applications; most common are Rayleigh scattering, Mie scattering and Raman scattering, as well as fluorescence. Based on different kinds of backscattering, the LIDAR can be accordingly called Rayleigh LiDAR, Mie LiDAR, Raman LiDAR and Na/Fe/K Fluorescence LIDAR and so on.[1] Suitable combinations of wavelengths can allow for remote mapping of atmospheric contents by looking for wavelength-dependent changes in the intensity of the returned signal.


A basic LIDAR system involves a laser range finder reflected by a rotating mirror (top). The laser is scanned around the scene being digitised, in one or two dimensions (middle), gathering distance measurements at specified angle intervals (bottom).

In general there are two kinds of lidar detection schema: "incoherent" or direct energy detection (which is principally an amplitude measurement) and Coherent detection (which is best for doppler, or phase sensitive measurements). Coherent systems generally use Optical heterodyne detection which being more sensitive than direct detection allows them to operate a much lower power but at the expense of more complex transceiver requirements.

In both coherent and incoherent LIDAR, there are two types of pulse models: micropulse lidar systems and high energy systems. Micropulse systems have developed as a result of the ever increasing amount of computer power available combined with advances in laser technology. They use considerably less energy in the laser, typically on the order of one microjoule, and are often "eye-safe," meaning they can be used without safety precautions. High-power systems are common in atmospheric research, where they are widely used for measuring many atmospheric parameters: the height, layering and densities of clouds, cloud particle properties (extinction coefficient, backscatter coefficient, depolarization), temperature, pressure, wind, humidity, trace gas concentration (ozone, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.).[1]

There are several major components to a LIDAR system:

  1. Laser — 600–1000 nm lasers are most common for non-scientific applications. They are inexpensive, but since they can be focused and easily absorbed by the eye, the maximum power is limited by the need to make them eye-safe. Eye-safety is often a requirement for most applications. A common alternative, 1550 nm lasers, are eye-safe at much higher power levels since this wavelength is not focused by the eye, but the detector technology is less advanced and so these wavelengths are generally used at longer ranges and lower accuracies. They are also used for military applications as 1550 nm is not visible in night vision goggles, unlike the shorter 1000 nm infrared laser. Airborne topographic mapping lidars generally use 1064 nm diode pumped YAG lasers, while bathymetric systems generally use 532 nm frequency doubled diode pumped YAG lasers because 532 nm penetrates water with much less attenuation than does 1064 nm. Laser settings include the laser repetition rate (which controls the data collection speed). Pulse length is generally an attribute of the laser cavity length, the number of passes required through the gain material (YAG, YLF, etc.), and Q-switch speed. Better target resolution is achieved with shorter pulses, provided the LIDAR receiver detectors and electronics have sufficient bandwidth.[1]
  2. Scanner and optics — How fast images can be developed is also affected by the speed at which they are scanned. There are several options to scan the azimuth and elevation, including dual oscillating plane mirrors, a combination with a polygon mirror, a dual axis scanner (see Laser scanning). Optic choices affect the angular resolution and range that can be detected. A hole mirror or a beam splitter are options to collect a return signal.
  3. Photodetector and receiver electronics — Two main photodetector technologies are used in lidars: solid state photodetectors, such as silicon avalanche photodiodes, or photomultipliers. The sensitivity of the receiver is another parameter that has to be balanced in a LIDAR design.
  4. Position and navigation systems — LIDAR sensors that are mounted on mobile platforms such as airplanes or satellites require instrumentation to determine the absolute position and orientation of the sensor. Such devices generally include a Global Positioning System receiver and an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU).

3D imaging can be achieved using both scanning and non-scanning systems. "3D gated viewing laser radar" is a non-scanning laser ranging system that applies a pulsed laser and a fast gated camera.

Imaging LIDAR can also be performed using arrays of high speed detectors and modulation sensitive detectors arrays typically built on single chips using CMOS and hybrid CMOS/CCD fabrication techniques. In these devices each pixel performs some local processing such as demodulation or gating at high speed down converting the signals to video rate so that the array may be read like a camera. Using this technique many thousands of pixels / channels may be acquired simultaneously.[4] High resolution 3D LIDAR cameras use homodyne detection with an electronic CCD or CMOS shutter.[5]

A coherent Imaging LIDAR uses Synthetic array heterodyne detection to enables a staring single element receiver to act as though it were an imaging array.[6]


This LIDAR-equipped mobile robot uses its LIDAR to construct a map and avoid obstacles.

Other than those applications listed above, there are a wide variety of applications of LIDAR, as often mentioned in National LIDAR Dataset programs.


Graphic of a LIDAR return, featuring different crop yield rates.
Agricultural Research Service scientists have developed a way to incorporate LIDAR with yield rates on agricultural fields. This technology will help farmers improve their yields by directing their resources toward the high-yield sections of their land.

LIDAR also can be used to help farmers determine which areas of their fields to apply costly fertilizer. LIDAR can create a topological map of the fields and reveals the slopes and sun exposure of the farm land. Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service blended this topological information with the farm land’s yield results from previous years. From this information, researchers categorized the farm land into high-, medium-, or low-yield zones.[7] This technology is valuable to farmers because it indicates which areas to apply the expensive fertilizers to achieve the highest crop yield.


LIDAR has many applications in the field of archaeology including aiding in the planning of field campaigns, mapping features beneath forest canopy,[8] and providing an overview of broad, continuous features that may be indistinguishable on the ground. LIDAR can also provide archaeologists with the ability to create high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of archaeological sites that can reveal micro-topography that are otherwise hidden by vegetation. LiDAR-derived products can be easily integrated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for analysis and interpretation. For example at Fort Beausejour - Fort Cumberland National Historic Site, Canada, previously undiscovered archaeological features have been mapped that are related to the siege of the Fort in 1755. Features that could not be distinguished on the ground or through aerial photography were identified by overlaying hillshades of the DEM created with artificial illumination from various angles. With LiDAR the ability to produce high-resolution datasets quickly and relatively cheaply can be an advantage. Beyond efficiency, its ability to penetrate forest canopy has led to the discovery of features that were not distinguishable through traditional geo-spatial methods and are difficult to reach through field surveys, as in the pioneering work at Caracol by Arlen Chase and his wife Diane Zaino Chase.[9]

Biology and conservation

LIDAR has also found many applications in forestry. Canopy heights, biomass measurements, and leaf area can all be studied using airborne LIDAR systems. Similarly, LIDAR is also used by many industries, including Energy and Railroad, and the Department of Transportation as a faster way of surveying. Topographic maps can also be generated readily from LIDAR, including for recreational use such as in the production of orienteering maps.[1]

In addition, the Save-the-Redwoods League is undertaking a project to map the tall redwoods on California's northern coast. LIDAR allows research scientists to not only measure the height of previously unmapped trees but to determine the biodiversity of the redwood forest. Stephen Sillett who is working with the League on the North Coast LIDAR project claims this technology will be useful in directing future efforts to preserve and protect ancient redwood trees.[10][Full citation needed]

Geology and soil science

High-resolution digital elevation maps generated by airborne and stationary LIDAR have led to significant advances in geomorphology, the branch of geoscience concerned with the origin and evolution of Earth's surface topography. LIDAR's abilities to detect subtle topographic features such as river terraces and river channel banks, measure the land surface elevation beneath the vegetation canopy, better resolve spatial derivatives of elevation, and detect elevation changes between repeat surveys have enabled many novel studies of the physical and chemical processes that shape landscapes. In addition to LIDAR data collected by private companies, academic consortia have been created to support the collection, processing and archiving of research-grade, publicly available LIDAR datasets. The National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), supported by the National Science Foundation, collects and distributes LIDAR data in support of scientific research and education in a variety of fields, particularly geoscience and ecology.[citation needed]

In geophysics and tectonics, a combination of aircraft-based LIDAR and GPS have evolved into an important tool for detecting faults and measuring uplift. The output of the two technologies can produce extremely accurate elevation models for terrain that can even measure ground elevation through trees. This combination was used most famously to find the location of the Seattle Fault in Washington, USA.[11] This combination is also being used to measure uplift at Mt. St. Helens by using data from before and after the 2004 uplift.[12] Airborne LIDAR systems monitor glaciers and have the ability to detect subtle amounts of growth or decline. A satellite based system is NASA's ICESat which includes a LIDAR system for this purpose. NASA's Airborne Topographic Mapper[13] is also used extensively to monitor glaciers and perform coastal change analysis. The combination is also used by soil scientists while creating a soil survey. The detailed terrain modeling allows soil scientists to see slope changes and landform breaks which indicate patterns in soil spatial relationships.

Meteorology and atmospheric environment

The first LIDAR systems were used for studies of atmospheric composition, structure, clouds, and aerosols. Initially based on ruby lasers, LIDAR for meteorological applications was constructed shortly after the invention of the laser and represent one of the first applications of laser technology.

Differential Absorption LIDAR (DIAL) is used for range-resolved measurements of a particular gas in the atmosphere, such as ozone, carbon dioxide, or water vapor. The LIDAR transmits two wavelengths: an "on-line" wavelength that is absorbed by the gas of interest and an off-line wavelength that is not absorbed. The differential absorption between the two wavelengths is a measure of the concentration of the gas as a function of range. DIAL LIDARs are essentially dual-wavelength backscatter LIDARS.[citation needed]

Doppler LIDAR and Rayleigh Doppler LIDAR are used to measure temperature and/or wind speed along the beam by measuring the frequency of the backscattered light. The Doppler broadening of gases in motion allows the determination of properties via the resulting frequency shift[14][15]. Scanning LIDARs, such as NASA's HARLIE LIDAR, have been used to measure atmospheric wind velocity in a large three dimensional cone.[16] ESA's wind mission ADM-Aeolus will be equipped with a Doppler LIDAR system in order to provide global measurements of vertical wind profiles.[17] A doppler LIDAR system was used in the 2008 Summer Olympics to measure wind fields during the yacht competition.[18] Doppler LIDAR systems are also now beginning to be successfully applied in the renewable energy sector to acquire wind speed, turbulence, wind veer and wind shear data. Both pulsed and continuous wave systems are being used. Pulsed systems using signal timing to obtain vertical distance resolution, whereas continuous wave systems rely on detector focusing.

Synthetic Array LIDAR allows imaging LIDAR without the need for an array detector. It can be used for imaging Doppler velocimetry, ultra-fast frame rate (MHz) imaging, as well as for speckle reduction in coherent LIDAR.[6] An extensive LIDAR bibliography for atmospheric and hydrospheric applications is given by Grant.[19]

Law enforcement

LIDAR speed guns are used by the police to measure the speed of vehicles for speed limit enforcement purposes and offer a number of advantages[clarification needed] over radar speed guns.[citation needed]


Few military applications are known to be in place and are classified, but a considerable amount of research is underway in their use for imaging. Higher resolution systems collect enough detail to identify targets, such as tanks. Here the name LADAR is more common. Examples of military applications of LIDAR include the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) for counter-mine warfare by Arete Associates.[20]

A NATO report (RTO-TR-SET-098) evaluated the potential technologies to do stand-off detection for the discrimination of biological warfare agents. The potential technologies evaluated were Long-Wave Infrared (LWIR), Differential Scatterring (DISC), and Ultraviolet Laser Induced Fluorescence (UV-LIF). The report concluded that : Based upon the results of the LIDAR systems tested and discussed above, the Task Group recommends that the best option for the near-term (2008–2010) application of stand-off detection systems is UV LIF .[21]

The Long-Range Biological Standoff Detection System (LR-BSDS) was developed for the US Army to provide the earliest possible standoff warning of a biological attack. It is an airborne system carried by a helicopter to detect man-made aerosol clouds containing biological and chemical agents at long range. The LR-BSDS, with a detection range of 30 km or more, was fielded in June 1997.[22]

Five LIDAR units produced by the German company Sick AG were used for short range detection on Stanley, the autonomous car that won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge.

A robotic Boeing AH-6 performed a fully autonomous flight in June 2010, including avoiding obstacles using LIDAR.[23][24]

Physics and astronomy

A worldwide network of observatories uses lidars to measure the distance to reflectors placed on the moon, allowing the moon's position to be measured with mm precision and tests of general relativity to be done. MOLA, the Mars Orbiting Laser Altimeter, used a LIDAR instrument in a Mars-orbiting satellite (the NASA Mars Global Surveyor) to produce a spectacularly precise global topographic survey of the red planet.

In September, 2008, NASA's Phoenix Lander used LIDAR to detect snow in the atmosphere of Mars.[25]

In atmospheric physics, LIDAR is used as a remote detection instrument to measure densities of certain constituents of the middle and upper atmosphere, such as potassium, sodium, or molecular nitrogen and oxygen. These measurements can be used to calculate temperatures. LIDAR can also be used to measure wind speed and to provide information about vertical distribution of the aerosol particles.

At the JET nuclear fusion research facility, in the UK near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, LIDAR Thomson Scattering is used to determine Electron Density and Temperature profiles of the plasma.[26]


LIDAR technology is being used in Robotics for the perception of the environment as well as object classification.[27] The ability of LIDAR technology to provide three-dimensional elevation maps of the terrain, high precision distance to the ground, and approach velocity can enable safe landing of robotic and manned vehicles with a high degree of precision.[28] Refer to the Military section above for further examples.


Areial LiDAR surveying from a paraplane operated by Scandinavian Laser Surveying
Aerial LiDAR surveying from a paraplane operated by Scandinavian Laser Surveying

Airborne LIDAR sensors are used by companies in the Remote Sensing field to create point clouds of the earth ground[clarification needed] for further processing (e.g. used in forestry).[citation needed]


LIDAR has been used in Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) systems for automobiles. Systems such as those by Siemens and Hella use a lidar device mounted on the front of the vehicle, such as the bumper, to monitor the distance between the vehicle and any vehicle in front of it.[29] In the event the vehicle in front slows down or is too close, the ACC applies the brakes to slow the vehicle. When the road ahead is clear, the ACC allows the vehicle to accelerate to a speed preset by the driver. Refer to the Military section above for further examples.

Wind farm optimization

Lidar can be used to increase the energy output from wind farms by accurately measuring wind speeds and wind turbulence.[30] An experimental[31] lidar is mounted on a wind turbine rotor to measure oncoming horizontal winds, and proactively adjust blades to protect components and increase power.[32]

Other uses

The video for the song "House of Cards" by Radiohead was believed to be the first use of real-time 3D laser scanning to record a music video. The range data in the video is not completely from a LIDAR, as structured light scanning is also used.[33][34]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Cracknell, Arthur P.; Hayes, Ladson (2007) [1991]. Introduction to Remote Sensing (2 ed.). London: Taylor and Francis. ISBN 0849392551. OCLC 70765252 
  2. ^ 'Experimental Advanced Research Lidar', Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  3. ^ Amzajerdian, Farzin; Pierrottet, Diego F.; Petway, Larry B.; Hines, Glenn D.; Roback, Vincent E.. "Lidar Systems for Precision Navigation and Safe Landing on Planetary Bodies". Langel Research Center. NASA. Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  4. ^ Medina, Antonio. Three Dimensional Camera and Rangefinder. January 1992. United States Patent 5081530. 
  5. ^ Medina A, Gayá F, and Pozo F. Compact laser radar and three-dimensional camera. 23 (2006). J. Opt. Soc. Am. A. pp. 800–805–4–800. 
  6. ^ a b Strauss C. E. M., "Synthetic-array heterodyne detection: a single-element detector acts as an array", Opt. Lett. 19, 1609-1611 (1994)
  7. ^ "ARS Study Helps Farmers Make Best Use of Fertilizers". USDA Agricultural Research Service. June 9, 2010. 
  8. ^ EID; crater beneath canopy
  9. ^ John Nobel Wilford (2010-05-10). "Mapping Ancient Civilization, in a Matter of Days". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-11. 
  10. ^ Councillor Quarterly, Summer 2007 Volume 6 Issue 3
  11. ^ Tom Paulson. 'LIDAR shows where earthquake risks are highest, Seattle Post (Wednesday, April 18, 2001).
  12. ^ 'Mount Saint Helens LIDAR Data', Washington State Geospatial Data Archive (September 13, 2006). Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  13. ^ 'Airborne Topographic Mapper', Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Li,, T. et al. (2011). "Middle atmosphere temperature trend and solar cycle revealed by long-term Rayleigh lidar observations". J. Geophys. Res. 116. 
  16. ^ Thomas D. Wilkerson, Geary K. Schwemmer, and Bruce M. Gentry. LIDAR Profiling of Aerosols, Clouds, and Winds by Doppler and Non-Doppler Methods, NASA International H2O Project (2002).
  17. ^ 'Earth Explorers: ADM-Aeolus', (European Space Agency, 6 June 2007). Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  18. ^ 'Doppler lidar gives Olympic sailors the edge', (3 July, 2008). Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  19. ^ Grant, W. B., Lidar for atmospheric and hydrospheric studies, in Tunable Laser Applications, 1st Edition, Duarte, F. J. Ed. (Marcel Dekker, New York, 1995) Chapter 7.
  20. ^
  21. ^ NATO Laser Based Stand-Off Detection of biological Agents
  22. ^ .,-Biological-and-Chemical-Defence/LR-BSDS--Long-Range-Biological-Standoff-Detection-System-United-States.html
  23. ^ Spice, Byron. Researchers Help Develop Full-Size Autonomous Helicopter Carnegie Mellon, 6 July 2010. Retrieved: 19 July 2010.
  24. ^ Koski, Olivia. In a First, Full-Sized Robo-Copter Flies With No Human Help Wired, 14 July 2010. Retrieved: 19 July 2010.
  25. ^ NASA. 'NASA Mars Lander Sees Falling Snow, Soil Data Suggest Liquid Past' (29 September 2008). Retrieved 9 November 2008.
  26. ^ CW Gowers. ' Focus On : Lidar-Thomson Scattering Diagnostic on JET' (undated). Retrieved 8 August 2007. Archived September 18, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ IfTAS
  28. ^ Amzajerdian, Farzin; Pierrottet, Diego F.; Petway, Larry B.; Hines, Glenn D.; Roback, Vincent E.. "Lidar Systems for Precision Navigation and Safe Landing on Planetary Bodies". Langley Research Center. NTRS. Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  29. ^ Bumper-mounted lasers
  30. ^ Mikkelsen, Torben et al (October 2007). "12MW Horns Rev Experiment". Risoe. Retrieved 2010-04-25. 
  31. ^ "Smarting from the wind". The Economist. 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2010-04-25. 
  32. ^ Mikkelsen, Torben & Hansen, Kasper Hjorth et al. Lidar wind speed measurements from a rotating spinner Danish Research Database & Danish Technical University, 20 April 2010. Retrieved: 25 April 2010.
  33. ^ Nick Parish (2008-07-13). "From OK Computer to Roll computer: Radiohead and director James Frost make a video without cameras". Creativity. 
  34. ^ Retrieved 2 May 2011 de

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  • lidar — [ lidar ] n. m. • 1971; acronyme angl., de Light Detecting And Ranging « détection et repérage par la lumière » ♦ Techn. Appareil de détection qui émet un faisceau laser et en reçoit l écho, permettant de déterminer la distance d un objet. La… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • lidar — um touro. lidar com lidava com crianças. lidar em a mãe lidava em serviços de arranjo da casa …   Dicionario dos verbos portugueses

  • Lidar —   [Abkürzung für englisch light detection and ranging], Umweltanalytik: die Übertragung des Radarprinzips auf den Frequenzbereich des Lichts (sichtbar …   Universal-Lexikon

  • lidar — v. intr. 1. Trabalhar. 2. Andar na lida; combater, lutar, pelejar. 3. Tourear. • v. tr. 4. Correr (touros) …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • lidar — lȉdar m DEFINICIJA meteor. radar koji emitira jake impulse svjetlosti (lasera) koji se odbijaju od čestica u atmosferi; koristi se u mjerenju brzine i smjera vjetra te količine čestica u najdonjem sloju atmosfere (do visine 10 20 km) ETIMOLOGIJA… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • lidar — [lī′där΄] n. [ LI(GHT) + (RA)DAR] a meteorological instrument using transmitted and reflected laser light for detecting atmospheric particles, as pollutants, and determining their elevation, concentration, etc …   English World dictionary

  • LIDAR — Estación Leica LIDAR utilizado para el escaneo de edificios, formaciones rocosas, etc. con el objetivo de generar modelos 3D. LIDAR (un acrónimo del inglés Light Detection and Ranging o Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging) es una tecnología que… …   Wikipedia Español

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