If there’s one word you’ll want to add to your 2021 drone tech conference vocabulary in 2021, it’s LiDAR.

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR is about to be a huge trend in terms of investment, technological development, implementation and sales for the upcoming year. LiDAR is short for Light Detection and Ranging. It’s a type of remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. Put a LiDAR sensor on a drone, and you can create high-resolution digital surfaces, terrain and elevation models. Since LiDAR can penetrate through light cover and is more accurate than other mapping methods like photogrammetry, it’s seen as essential for people who might need to conduct urban surveys and see through objects on the ground like cloth or wires, or people who want to map overgrown farmland or even shallow water.

Related read: LiDAR vs. photogrammetry with drones: Which surveys need which imaging technology?

LiDAR has proven itself an important component of enterprise drone operations, allowing surveyors to quickly produce aerial scans of the land to create 3D images.

Among the use cases for LiDAR in drones? Archaeology, where drones can rediscover ‘lost sites’ and map them in 3D in a few minutes. Mine inspections, where drones double as a collision detection tool to conduct simultaneous localization and mapping. And forestry, where drones can measure canopy heights, coverage, tree density and the location and height of individual trees.

2021 drone tech construction LiDAR
47% of respondents who worked in construction said LiDAR capabilities were the number one feature they would like to see implemented into DroneDeploy, according to a recent DroneDeploy customer survey.

The growth of LiDAR in the drone industry in 2021

One of the drone industry’s biggest mapping software companies, DroneDeploy, has suggested that LiDAR will see significant growth in 2021.

The company said that LiDAR and Point Cloud processing and analysis was the most requested feature across all industries, according to DroneDeploy’s 2021 State of the Industry Report (36% indicated it was their most requested feature). It’s especially popular in one vertical: construction.

DroneDeploy surveyed 600 users across 40 industries. 47% of respondents who worked in construction said LiDAR capabilities were the number one feature they would like to see implemented into DroneDeploy. What’s more, 27% said they already plan to implement LiDAR capabilities into their program in 2021.

According to DroneDeploy, the global LiDAR market is currently valued at $1.1 billion (as of 2019), and is projected to reach $2.8 billion by 2025 and $3.21 billion by 2027. That’s a 34% increase in market size over an eight-year span.

Many companies are looking to begin (or ramp up) their involvement with the 2021 drone tech trend of LiDAR. Even Chinese dronemaker DJI is getting into LiDAR through investing in Livox, an independent, sensor-technology company. Livox’s LiDAR sensors, the Horizon and Tele-15, can deliver better sensing performance at a fraction of the cost of traditional LiDAR units, and one of them costs less than $1,000.

2021 drone tech DJI Inspire construction

Many companies make LiDAR systems that easily integrate with drones. One of the easiest ways to create a drone-based LiDAR system that’s as close to “ready to fly out of the box” as you’ll get is by mounting a ScanLook A-series LiDAR system to a DJI Matrice 600 airframe (or the Matrice 600 Pro).

For a drone that’s made in America, look to Montana-based Skyfish, which builds drones that support many payloads and sensors out-of-the-box, including LiDAR and thermal sensors from FLIR.

“This proves that our base is looking for one solution for all reality capture,” according to DroneDeploy’s report on not just LiDAR, but many other 2021 drone tech trends. “It also reflects our customers are starting to grow and expand past just aerial drones – marking a giant leap forward for visual data capture.”

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