A laser creates a light pulse which is then projected to a mirror, ultimately reaching a ‘target’ usually a ground based object. As the laser travels down until it collides with an object, it is reflected back to the system. Determining the distance from its starting point becomes achievable thanks to a mathematical equation that takes the speed of light as constant. This measurement gives us the height, also known as Z data point, of an entity. To obtain more details about such entity’s longitude and latitude (X and Y data points), Global Positioning Systems are used concomitantly. In addition, an inertial measurement unit on board can bring digital positional information regarding pitch, yaw and roll dimensions to us.

Recent advances in LiDAR technology have made it possible to acquire data rapidly from planes and helicopters thousands of feet up, as well as from the ground level with UAVs. This is particularly useful for surveying hazardous or unapproachable areas where traditional methods are impractical. An additional benefit is that airborne surveys can be conducted without any health or safety risks for those involved, as the lasers pose no threat to humans.