More Affordable LiDAR Sensors Open a Range of Possibilities When Combined with IoT Applications

March 20, 2017 by Chantelle Dubois

LiDAR is highly useful in a range of applications. While it has been primarily used in scientific and industrial settings, the increasing availability of off-the-shelf components is making it a highly valuable tool and sensor for IoT applications.

While LiDAR has been primarily used in scientific and industrial settings, the increasing availability of off-the-shelf components is making it a highly valuable tool and sensor for IoT applications.

LiDAR (Light Imaging, Detection, and Ranging) technology was developed shortly after the invention of the laser (Light Application Simulated by Emission of Radiation) in the 1960s. Since then it has been used in a wide range of applications for mapping (both terrestrial and extraterrestrial), atmospheric monitoring, and, most recently, in collision detection in vehicles. 

To briefly summarize how LiDAR works, it’s like SONAR, but instead of measuring the time delay for a sound echo to return, it measures the delay of the return of a light pulse. That’s just a very basic explanation, of course. A much more detailed explanation can be found here

It's becoming clear that much more accessible and affordable LiDAR sensors will become available to consumers within the next few years. This means people across the electronics industry—engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, and hackers alike—might soon be able to explore a wide range of possibilities, combining LiDAR with IoT for a wide range of innovative and useful applications or products. 

So, in anticipation, here are a couple of ideas that combine LiDAR with IoT for potential projects. 

Home Security and Automation

There are currently systems available commercially that provide security by tracking objects within a space, analyzing movement and behavior to determine if it is human or non-human, and then reacting appropriately (perhaps alerting the security company if it detects an intruder when the system is set to away). 

The benefit of a LiDAR system—as opposed to traditional home security methods such as cameras or motion detection—is that LiDAR will work in all visibility conditions and has a much longer range. The sensor can also be used in more clever processing methods to decide if an alert is due to something benign, like a house pet, or in virtual perimeter monitoring, such as your backyard. 

LiDAR can also map objects in your house and maybe be helpful in determining which objects might have been stolen if you are a victim of a home intrusion. 

For flooding or natural disasters, a well-designed LiDAR home system could also provide mapping that can let you know the extent of damage before you are able to arrive on the scene. Immediately available data on the cloud could provide more comprehensive before and after data for damage assessment.

With the availability of more affordable LiDAR sensors, projects can be created where LiDAR home security can be complemented by home automation, allowing data to be accessed online or through your mobile device from wherever you are.


Interior / Indoor LiDAR scan: A robot-eye tour of a house from Andy Trench on Vimeo.

Remote Mapping for 3D Printing

It is already possible to create 3D-printed objects through photographic modeling. With LiDAR, much more detailed modeling data can be abstracted for even more interesting 3D printing projects.  

This, in particular, has a lot of different potential applications, ranging from quirky to important. For a typical user, it might be possible to scan and model an object using LiDAR, then transmit the scanned data via the Internet to a connected 3D printer. This modeling could be of an object you want to capture in 3D or of a building or environment.

In Syria, when ISIS began destroying historical structures and artifacts, specialists arrived to take photos of the remaining sites that were then later used to model and 3D print replicas. While this is an extreme case, 3D printing has already been proven to be a useful tool in the preservation of historical sites.

With a LiDAR scanner, even better models could be mapped with higher resolution, and those models could be sent from across the world to be recreated in high-quality printers. This would reduce the cost and time of high-quality 3D printing significantly for business purposes, but it clearly has significant impact in the preservation of cultural artifacts, as well.


LiDAR for Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality devices are now more accessible than ever and have opened up an entirely new range of academic, practical, and recreational possibilities. VR is already recognized as being a useful tool for virtually visiting remote places without ever leaving the comfort of your home but, coupled with a LiDAR imaging system and Internet access, a live and immersive VR experience can become even more realistic. 

Part of convincing your brain that it's somewhere else is the perceived three-dimensions of the images you are seeing. For live virtual reality experiences, it’s difficult to map objects that are otherwise being captured by a typical camera in real-time. With a LiDAR mapping system, a realistic, high-resolution, and near-real time virtual reality experience can be created.

This might be used when “visiting” family remotely, in video games, and maybe one day in virtual space vacations to other planets. In more serious applications, a mobile LiDAR scanner can be sent into dangerous environments for law enforcement or rescuers who then guide and control the scanner with a VR headset. 


Heritage Museum combines LiDAR mapping and Virtual Reality for immersive visitor experiences. Image courtesy of Soluis.


What else can we expect from the combination of LiDAR and the IoT? Smart sensors, VR, and 3D printing are all growing industries that will continue to put the world at our fingertips—and all stand to benefit from more accessible LiDAR and a more robust IoT.