Mobile lidar can capture data in considerable detail, as shown by this image of a US highway (CREDIT: Oregon State University)

Too few experts trained in mobile lidar says report

A new US report into mobile lidar imaging technology has highlighted significant constraints on achieving its full potential.

With recent developments in the field, a vehicle driving up and down a road at traffic speed can gather more data about the surrounding landscape in an hour than a crew of surveyors could obtain in months.

A new US report, which has just been completed and presented to the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, predicts that it will be used in transport, hydrology, forestry, virtual tourism and construction.

But it warns that too few experts are trained to use it, too few educational programmes exist to teach it, mountains of data are produced that can swamp the computer capabilities of even large agencies, and lack of a consistent data management protocol clogs the sharing of information between systems.

“A lot of people and professionals still don’t even know what mobile lidar is or what it can do,” said Michael Olsen, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Oregon State University, and lead author of the report. “And the technology is changing so fast it’s hard for anyone, even the experts, to keep up.

“When we get more people using mobile lidar and we work through some of the obstacles, it’s going to reduce costs, improve efficiency, change many professions and even help save lives,” Olsen said.

Lidar (light detecting and ranging) has been used for 20 years, primarily in aerial mapping. Ground-based mobile lidar, with even more powerful computer systems, is still in its infancy and has only been commercially available for five years.

Mobile lidar, compared to its aerial counterpart, can provide 10 to 100 times more data points that hugely improve the resolution of an image. Moving even at highway speeds, a technician can obtain a detailed three-dimensional view of the nearby terrain.

The report on which this story is based is available here.

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