Mobile Mapping/Aerial LiDAR is disrupting the surveying industry: Here’s what you need to know.

Sam Hackett staff photo
Sam Hackett
Associate Surveyor - Mobile Mapping

For mobile and aerial surveying and mapping specialists, Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping are terms we use every day. But although the Mobile technology is becoming more optimised and more accessible, it is still quite a niche technology in New Zealand.

In this post, I'll go into detail about what Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping are, the benefits, how we use these methods in our projects at Woods, and what I think will be the next advancements in this area.

What is Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping?

When I’m talking to people at conferences or even some of my colleagues, I often describe Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping as siblings, in contrast to the more common Terrestrial Laser Scanning. Airborne and Mobile are the same technology, just applied on different platforms.

The technology, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), is a method of remote sensing or mapping that uses a rotating laser scanner to measure distance at over a million points per second to capture data. It is commonly used when mapping or surveying land topography, vegetation, infrastructure, and buildings.

Aerial LiDAR (Aerial Mapping) is when the laser scanner is mounted to an aircraft and data is captured from the top down during flight. Whereas Mobile Mapping (Mobile LiDAR) is when the laser scanner is mounted to a vehicle and data is captured as the vehicle is driven along the road or infrastructure such as a railway.

The biggest difference between these two applications of LiDAR is the level of detail and size of the area that can be captured. While Aerial LiDAR can capture data from 500m to 5km range, the data captured with Mobile LiDAR is denser and more detailed as it may be as close as 5-10m range from what is being measured.

What are the benefits of Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping?

Safety of Access

Safety is the number one benefit for Woods when it comes to Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping. Using these mapping techniques, we can safely complete surveys in areas that were traditionally very high-risk environments such as roads, railways, and airports, often without any extra precautions or additional safety requirements.

For example, we can conduct a survey-grade survey of the Auckland motorway with zero traffic management requirements and zero traffic management impact. Our specialists can survey at 100km/h with our mobile mapping equipment and just fit in with traffic during routine operations. Our safety procedure is simply ‘follow the road rules’.

Efficiency at Scale

When compared with traditional surveying methods, aerial and mobile mapping enables a scale of surveying and accuracy of surveying that was previously unheard of. It enables our clients to approach projects with different levels of detail, on a lot larger scale, and with a lot less risk.

For example, we can survey many kilometres of railway using mobile mapping equipment overnight without disrupting train operations. This would traditionally require boots on the ground and the time required to complete it during overnight gaps in the train schedule would not be feasible or efficient.

Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping at Woods

Woods has been in the surveying industry for over 40 years. Aerial LiDAR and mobile mapping technology has disrupted how we would traditionally approach our projects whenever we need scale or safer workplaces. Where we previously might have used what is considered traditional surveying technology, nowadays mobile surveying equipment often comes out instead.

But mobile surveying on its own has its limitations. The success of Mobile Mapping and Aerial LiDAR depends on the capability of the entire solution: hardware, software, and methodology. The capabilities of each solution also vary significantly; what one solution might be not suitable for, another solution might excel at.

We have such a variety of technology within our toolkit at Woods that we almost never choose one single technology for a specific job. We combine survey techniques and technologies so we can get above the limitations, and leverage the strengths of other techniques, to achieve much better products and solutions for our clients.

The future of Aerial LiDAR and Mobile Mapping

In the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen massive technology advancements and development in LiDAR hardware and hardware capability. The sensors today available enable us to achieve what was almost unheard of 5-10 years ago. This optimisation of technology has resulted in the ability to capture data faster and on a much bigger scale than most organisations could ever dream of utilising.

The next developments in my mind are how people integrate and leverage data, and the automation of those processes. While there are still jumps to happen in terms of the hardware and technology, I think the geospatial data space is where we will see the quickest advancements and disruptions within the industry going forward.

Within Woods, we are continually looking for and developing new ways to help our clients utilise and leverage the data captured and undertake larger projects more efficiently. Our investment in technology is a key point of difference that enables us to stay at the forefront of technology in the surveying space and provide better value for our clients from what we do.

Sam Hackett - Associate Surveyor/Mobile Mapping Manager