How Lidar Is Enabling Autonomous Drones


Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances on Earth. These light pulses — combined with other data recorded by the wind system — generate accurate,
three-dimensional information about the Earth’s shape and its surface characteristics. The information can be very useful, as described below.

An autonomous drone is known by different names, such as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS). However, in terms of industrial applications, they are used to monitor the entire region or terrain inside or outside industrial units, which sometimes can be a bit cumbersome for people to do because of dangerous settings or environmental conditions. strength.

Photogrammetry in image scanning and reconstruction using drones
Image scanning photogrammetry and reconstruction using drones Credit wwwscoutaerialcomau

To carry out such monitoring, new platforms are being developed around the world. Such platforms provide complete end-to-end, autonomous solutions for aerial data collection. An industrial UAV like any drone with IoT web capability, communicates directly with the industrial control center and all (IoT) sensors for temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, gas, motion, electric and magnetic field, high-resolution full HD camera with object detection and tracking to perform the necessary operations.

An autonomous drone (aka drone-in-a-box) gathers all kinds of data during its flight path, or customized data requested from the ground station, and sends it to the monitoring station. In the absence of a ground based controller or a human pilot on site, when activated, the drone will operate. It deploys out of the box autonomously, collects the right data either on demand or pre-scheduled missions, and returns home when done. The box acts as a landing pad, recharging station, shelter, and data hub.

Industrial drone-in-a-box solutions are highly adaptable to business needs. For example, you can launch a drone-in-a-box or combine several systems depending on the coverage requirements of each industrial area. During a drone mission, even if you are not on site, you can view site conditions in real time and also receive operational alerts and insights. If you are unavailable during the mission, the system automatically generates reports based on mission findings for later review.

The top applications related to autonomous drones in industry include the following:

  • Map the terrain and detect changes
  • Asset management and scheduling
  • Emergency response alerts and real-time situational awareness
  • Inspection of industrial premises and equipment monitoring

Challenges in photogrammetry

For remote monitoring and surveillance, drones initially used a technology called photogrammetry, which is used to create real-life models through images and photographic captures. Photogrammetry uses aerial and terrestrial cameras to prepare real-size measurements of objects (eg, observation sites) by taking measurements of the observation site and using them for real -time inspection and monitoring activities.

This photogrammetry solution is not successful in poor visibility areas during rain or in dim light because the reconstruction of the 3D digital model in such conditions gives poor results. So, it is not able to manage to monitor such climatic conditions.

It is better managed by lidar, because it uses laser technology. Hundreds of laser points per square meter capture more accurate data points to build a real-time digital model of the observation area in any climatic condition. Therefore, aerobotics using lidar technology are now a very effective solution in such situations.

Lidar and drones

Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) on Earth. These light pulses — combined with other data recorded by the wind system — generate precise, three-dimensional information about the Earth’s shape and its surface characteristics.

A lidar instrument basically consists of a laser, a scanner, and a special GPS receiver. Airplanes and helicopters are the most commonly used platforms for acquiring lidar data over wide areas.

Lidars are of two types—topographic and bathymetric. Topographic lidar typically uses a near-infrared laser to map the terrain. Bathymetric lidar uses water-penetrating green light to also measure sea and river floor levels.

Lidar technology is now being used to create super-detailed 3D maps and models of landscapes, buildings, and man-made objects, opening the floodgates for a new creative possibilities when it comes to planning and innovation. Lidar can even detail when vegetation is visible on the ground and how dense it is, which is a technology that previously did not exist and would have required countless man-hours to incorporate into planning.

However, what really brings lidar into the limelight is the level of accuracy it can provide. In fact, in high-fidelity modes, a lidar drone can provide detailed information of 100-500 data points per square meter with an impressive accuracy of 2-3 centimeters. It used to be unfathomable.

New applications of drones using lidar integration

Lidar technology, when integrated with drones, opens up a wide area of ​​applications in various fields, some of which are listed below:

  • As modern drones are enough to support industries for the transportation of goods, with lidar the drones can be compact, light, and stable and improve logistics to a great extent.
  • The operations of drones are very sensitive to weight when carrying heavy objects. With the addition of heavy sensors, cameras, and other equipment, the issue of space also arises. But with lidar sensors, drones can be more resistant to mechanical vibrations, which in turn improves their real-time data acquisition capability when operating in adverse weather conditions.
  • With lidar sensors, drones can autonomously detect nearby environments, and unexpected obstacles can be avoided; even landing sites can be found more precisely.
  • Lidar advances terrain mapping to a new level. With lidar sensors, mapping can be faster and more accurate (to a few centimeters). It will help the agricultural sector for soil monitoring, livestock tracking, farm yield analysis, and livestock grazing.
  • With lidar sensors, complex monitoring of sensitive environments such as power lines, railways, and wind turbines becomes easy and their early detection becomes possible 24×7 monitoring.

Dr. Anand Nayyar is a PhD in wireless sensor networks and intelligence networks. He works at Duy Tan University, Vietnam and likes to explore open source technologies, IoT, cloud computing, deep learning, and cyber security.

dr. Magesh Kasthuri a senior distinguished member of the technical staff and principal consultant of Wipro Ltd. This article expresses his views and not those of Wipro


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