How Does LIDAR Scanner Work [Step By Step Breakdown]

LIDAR sensor emits pulsed light waves into the surrounding environment, and then bounces off objects and returns to the sensor. The sensor then calculates time & distance each time each pulse return to the sensor.

Its core application is to create 3D models and map environments around us.

What Is LiDAR

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, also known as laser scanning or 3D scanning.

This technology has been around since the 1960s, and it's been used on self-driving cars, city photogrammetry, 3D modelling, Drones, and other geospatial applications.

Step By Step - How LiDAR Works In Simple Terms

Step 1 - Time Of Flight Measurement

LiDAR sensor fires a laser beam to hit an object's surface, then calculate how long it takes for the beam to reflect back to the laser scanner. The distance and time then convert to time of flight measurements.

Did you know? - Speed of light is 299,792m458 meters per second

Step 2 - Point Cloud Generation

LiDAR scanning units fire hundreds of thousands of pulses per second. The sensor uses a large number of time of flight measurements into a point cloud to generate the 3D visualization of the environment or object being scanned.

This is the part these data points turn into a 3D model.

For mapping LiDAR technology, a system with an integrated inertial measurement unit (IMU) and GNSS receiver use SLAM algorithm to power it to generate the point cloud to be georeferenced.

This is how Google Earth map shows detailed city layouts with pinpoint accuracy.

LiDAR Applications

LiDAR applications benefit:

  • Engineering 
  • Video game design
  • 3D printing
  • Real estate development
  • Construction
  • Mapping
  • Geodata
  • Space travel
  • Automotive
  • Landscaping
  • Aerospace
  • Many more

Check out the Top 5 3D scanner apps here


Does LiDAR Technology Work On Modern Smartphones

Not all smartphones feature LiDAR technology, and currently the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro have these sensors. These sensors will further evolve and integrate with Augmented reality as the technology advances.

How Does LiDAR Measure Sense Of Depth?

The time of flight measurement we have discussed above is how LiDAR technology measure depth with light pulses. Once these data points are created, it can mesh the dimensions of space and object.

How Accurate Is LiDAR Scanner

LiDAR scanner still needs more improvement so every consumer can benefit from it in the future. LiDAR scanner can be as accurate as recording video of a person and turn it into a hologram

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