v.5.0 is out Now!
Reading time:

Beyond Mapping: The Diverse Applications of LiDAR Technology Across Industries

Kristaps Brass
Product Owner @ SPH Engineering
UgCS: Flight Planning & Control
May 15, 2024

LiDAR technology, a form of remote sensing technology, works by transmitting laser beams to the ground. As these beams return after hitting the ground, the LiDAR sensors note the time of flight the laser pulses return, which is used to calculate distances. This process, known as light detection and ranging (LiDAR), allows for creation of detailed three-dimensional models of the object or environment being scanned. The evolution of LiDAR technology since it was first introduced has been quite remarkable, and these advancements today allow it to be used in various conditions and applications, from high-resolution mapping to providing navigation for autonomous vehicles, demonstrating the diverse LiDAR applications across industries.

LiDAR in Mapping and Surveying

One of the primary LiDAR mapping industries is the geographical and urban planning sector. In this sector, LiDAR technology plays an instrumental role in creating highly detailed topographical maps, aiding the urban planning process, development of infrastructure, and, in many cases, disaster management planning. This remote sensing method captures data that are transformed into 3D models, offering an advanced view of the environment being studied and providing accurate measurements. Using UgCS drone flight planning software, operators can easily integrate various LiDAR sensors and cameras, customizing flight parameters to suit specific project needs and conditions. Several case studies prove that LiDAR applications in mapping and surveying not only vastly improve the accuracy offered on geographical data but also significantly reduce the time and effort necessary to engage in land surveying processes. The file format used for storing LiDAR data is crucial as it ensures that the information is compatible with various Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, enhancing data usability across different platforms. LiDAR data is typically available in two main formats. The first is the LAS (.las) file format, which contains point cloud data representing both ground and surface structures like buildings and trees at a specific location. The second format is the LAZ (.laz) file, essentially a compressed LAS file version. This format offers a more efficient storage solution for handling large volumes of LiDAR data.

In the mapping and surveying, there are several key LiDAR applications that illustrate the technology's critical importance:

  • Detailed Topographical Maps: Airborne LiDAR creates high-resolution topographical maps that accurately portray terrain, including elevation changes, slopes, and contours. These detailed maps serve various purposes, from civil engineering projects to environmental studies. Geographic Information System (GIS) professionals utilize the digital elevation models derived from LiDAR data and provide crucial information for land surveyors and engineers, allowing for precise analysis of terrain features and elevation variations.
  • Urban Planning and Development: Urban planners and developers use LiDAR data to visualize current urban environments, plan new construction, and assess the potential impacts of that development. By creating a precise model of the urban landscape, planners can visualize a wide range of development scenarios before any actual construction begins. This involves a range of applications, from zoning analysis to infrastructure design to land use optimization, making it possible for a city to grow and accommodate change while inflicting the least environmental disruption possible.
  • Infrastructure Development: Engineers use LiDAR data to design roads, bridges, plan infrastructure projects and other utilities. The detailed landscape information provided by LiDAR makes it possible to identify the most suitable routes and locations for new infrastructure, which translates to cost savings and the least possible disruption to the environment.
LiDAR data sample

Drone LiDAR Uses in Agriculture and Forestry

Drone LiDAR remote sensing has transformed both the fields of precision agriculture and forestry management. The use of drone LiDAR in agriculture includes detailed terrain analysis, which helps optimize crop layouts, assess crop health, and even gauge the structure of a forest canopy for better environmental practices. UgCS flight planning software supports advanced flight planning features such as setting waypoints, adjusting FOV (field of view) angle, and defining overlap percentages, which are crucial for generating detailed and accurate LiDAR scans. There are lots of benefits, and they're summed up by increased yield, greater sustainability, and the more efficient use of resources for all.

Here are a few examples of drone LiDAR technology in agriculture:

  • Monitoring Crop Health: Drone LiDAR systems can be used to assess plant health by measuring canopy height and density. This data helps identify stress areas within a crop, enabling targeted intervention to address issues such as pest infestations, disease outbreaks, or water stress. Additionally, canopy height models derived from LiDAR data provide detailed insights into vegetation structure and health, allowing farmers to optimize management practices for improved crop yield and sustainability.
  • Detailed Terrain Analysis: Creating high-resolution maps of farmland and forest areas., allowing for precise topography and terrain modeling. It's also necessary to understand water flow patterns, soil erosion potential, and land suitability for different crops or types of trees.
  • Soil Erosion Control: By mapping and analyzing terrain, Airborn LiDAR technology helps design effective soil erosion control measures on the ground surface. This can include the strategic placement of barriers, the planning of drainage systems, and the selection of crop types that can help reduce soil loss.
  • Yield Optimization: By analyzing terrain, crop health, and canopy structure data, farmers can plan exactly when and where each plant should go. For uplands, the battle to create the highest value possible between the moment the ground thaws and planting is fierce. LiDAR saves valuable days by getting you into the field to map it accurately as soon as possible. The same maps also enable starting operations such as crop scouting and building the lines of variable rate fertilizer prescriptions. The speed of operations that could make enacting every part of the game plan a reality changes radically.

Drone LiDAR is used in several farming applications. Canopy height and density measurements can be used for plant health analysis, identifying stress areas within a crop. This, in turn, can be employed for precision action — to address issues such as outbreaks of diseases, pest infestations, or water stress, among others. Terrain data can be combined with crop health data to accurately define canopies where they are most needed and design precision irrigation systems to provide only the water each plant requires. With UgCS, surveyors can optimize their LiDAR data collection efforts, reducing the time in the field and improving the overall efficiency of the surveying process with the remote sensing method. These are just some of the applications where higher-quality elevation data can help provide the differentiation in the precision agriculture capability.

LiDAR in Environmental Monitoring and Conservation

LiDAR is used for the creation of accurate 3D representations of terrain and vegetation to detect ecosystem changes, assess habitat quality, and design conservation strategies is central. LiDAR can give a view of areas that are too hazardous for people to get on the ground to assess or that are too vast to cover more efficiently. This is true for applications as heavy-duty as disaster management that contain some of the most extensive floodplain mapping of any technology to date. As environmental concerns rise overall, Airborn LiDAR provides a preemptive approach that makes case studies in water conservation worthy of center stage.

Here are a few examples of drone LiDAR applications in environmental monitoring and conservation:

  • Disaster Management: Creating accurate terrain and flood models for early warning systems, flood inundation maps, and risk assessment for flooding. Drone LiDAR technology improves the accuracy of these models by capturing detailed data that other methods might miss. This is especially important in areas that often experience sudden weather changes, as fast and detailed information can help plan evacuations better and reduce damage.
  • Land Management: Accurately measuring canopy height and density to manage forest inventory, detect changes in forest structure or deforestation, and monitor landscape restoration. Drone LiDAR provides crucial data for checking how much plant life is in an area, planning how to use forests sustainably, and keeping an eye on how they recover after events like fires or logging. This information helps make sure forests are looked after well, which keeps them healthy and diverse.
  • Hydrological Modeling: Using digital terrain models to determine the flow volume and velocity of water run-off, monitor stream stability, and forecast river flow behavior. This enables effective watershed management, river restoration, and wetland habitat design. With drone LiDAR data, water experts can make their models more precise. This helps them manage water better and make smarter plans for preventing floods and improving water systems. These models are useful for knowing what might happen when it rains a lot and can help in building better flood defenses.
  • Climate Change Impact Studies: LiDAR is also used to measure the effects of climate change on natural landscapes, including sea-level rise, glacier retreat, shifting vegetation patterns, and other signs of a rapidly changing planet. As with monitoring forest change over time, these measurements include accurate terrain data that would be tough to source cost-effectively in any other fashion. This knowledge goes directly to creating and optimizing response programs that could determine the effective and sustainable development of thousands of square kilometers of land.

LiDAR in Architecture and Construction

The technology's influence over the construction process only emphasizes its adaptability. From getting a project started to monitoring it after completion, LiDAR offers the high degree of precision and efficiency required to navigate today's architecture and construction industries. It also plays an important role in the historical preservation of invaluable structures and archaeological remains alike. Airborne LiDAR scans, powered by green laser light, make it easier to watch a structure take shape.

  • Structural Analysis and Monitoring: LiDAR scans make it easier to watch a structure take shape. They monitor and evaluate everything the user sees in the scan to ensure no deviation from the original design has occurred. If issues do pop up, they're far easier to nip in the bud early when it's far cheaper and less time-consuming to solve them.
  • Integration with Building Information Modeling (BIM): The data generated by this tool easily flows into Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems. These systems, used in the design, construction, and maintenance of a structure, piece them together virtually. That improves collaboration among every single one of a project's stakeholders. Furthermore, advancements in LiDAR software enable real-time data processing and analysis, facilitate quicker decision-making, and enhance overall project efficiency.

Emerging Trends and Future of LiDAR Technology

Watching the technology as it broadens its horizons in so many different fields, it's not hard to see why the fascination is so strong. This technology has begun to make a difference in healthcare, entertainment, retail, and so many other corners of society. As one can imagine, it has a promising future ahead, with the only real limitations coming down to our imaginations. Infrared laser technology is also showing potential in LiDAR remote sensing applications, particularly in scenarios where traditional visible light lasers face limitations, such as penetrating dense foliage or adverse weather conditions. Smart LiDAR software solutions are evolving to meet the demands of various industries, offering customizable features and intuitive interfaces for seamless integration into existing workflows.


LiDAR in different sectors has become increasingly important. It's remarkable to see how it has improved these industries - making them more efficient, safer, and smarter. LiDAR technology is evolving, and it's almost certain to continue to play a prominent role in shaping the future of these industries, opening dramatically new possibilities for innovation and discovery.


Written by Kristaps Brass

Kristaps Brass is an Engineer and Product Owner of UgCS at SPH Engineering. During the last decade at SPH Engineering, as an experienced drone pilot, Kristaps has collected countless flight hours. He has done customer training around the world and participated in an expedition to Greenland in 2019. Kristaps is leading the team behind UgCS flight planning software, helping drone pilots transform their drone operations around the globe.