February 25, 2015

ILMF Highlight: Harris' Commercial Geiger-Mode LiDAR Service

Harris geiger-mode lidar

Harris displayed a scale model of the new sensor at their ILMF booth.

This week Harris Corporation showcased what they are calling the first commercially available Geiger-mode LiDAR sensor. The sensor, which they are calling the IntelliEarth GS Geiger mode LiDAR sensor, is the centerpiece of their new Geiger-mode LiDAR service. Harris claims that it offers ten times the speed and resolution of traditional linear-mode LiDAR, a significant increase in power that allows them to “put higher-quality elevation products into our customers’ hands faster and more affordably than ever before.”

Since Harris is exhibiting at ILMF — where they are showcasing a 1/3 scale model of the sensor — SPAR caught up with Dave Kornick, Director of Geospatial Solutions, and Kurt Feldbush, Commercial Geospatial Services Lead to find out more. They explained why geiger-mode LiDAR is good news for commercial customers and how they think the technology could change everything for industries that utilize LiDAR data.

Kornick and Feldbush were careful to note that Harris does not intend to sell the sensor directly to their customers. Instead, the company will use its own hardware, airplanes, and processing methods to deliver the data.

As Kornick explained, this is necessary and much more cost effective for the customer because Geiger-mode LiDAR is markedly different from traditional linear-mode LiDAR. Since geiger-mode LiDAR measures using many photons at once where linear-mode uses one single laser, the technology collects much denser data. It can measure more than 100 points per meter where linear-mode LiDAR can collect only about 8.

It was also designed for use at a much higher altitude than linear-mode LiDAR, which means it can cover more area in a single flight. In Kornick’s words, the technology “enables a much higher measurement rate over large geographic areas.”

All of these advantages make the data cheaper and faster to attain, but much more difficult to process.

“I think the challenging part of the technology is in the processing,” Kornick said, “because now you’re collecting a lot more data than you would with a linear-mode LiDAR. The challenge is taking that and trying to do the algorithms, analysis, and automation of that processing to discern the different points coming back to the aircraft. We’ve had 15 years of doing that, so we’ve leveraged the experience. We’ve invested a lot over the years automating the processing of that data, which is a cost advantage for our customers.”

Who are the customers for the technology? “Certainly, the main target is commercial right now,” Kornick said. “There’s a lot of market segments right now: utilities, oil and gas, forestry, and then the main one is mapping and flood mapping.” 

Feldbush said that Geiger-mode LiDAR is especially helpful for flood mapping, and offered an impressive use case as proof. “There’s a mid-sized US state that currently has a program ongoing to collect their entire state in LiDAR at two points per meter–just to do basic, low-resolution flood mapping. And that’s going to take them five years to complete using three sensors. We are now going to go in for them and collect that entire state in a month at 20 points per meter.”

As he explained, data collected at 20 points per meter offers much higher resolution imagery, “which enables you to do analysis down to which exact building is going to get water and which one isn’t.” The data is even high-resolution enough to be used for other purposes, such as infrastructure analysis of things such as power lines, road, and pipelines.

This increase in resolution could even cause a fundamental change to the industries built around LiDAR data. “I think that people who are familiar with LiDAR today are used to low resolution,” Kornick said, “and once they understand that they can get very high resolution elevation from LiDAR, that’s going to open up a whole new set of value-added products and use-cases for this data, things we don’t even know today.”

According to Feldbush, those value-added products are part of Harris’ plan. Since the high-res data can be managed by all of Harris’ customers and partners as they manage normal LiDAR data today, the company’s plan through is “to work with a wide variety of partners through the industry to leverage their capabilities for all these additional services that they can provide on top of this data.”

For now, Kornick and Feldbush are excited to bring geiger-mode LiDAR data to commercial customers. “We really think this geiger-mode LiDAR is going to drive costs down,” Kornick said. “We think we’ll be able to collect data 10 times faster than today’s linear-mode sensors, and we’ll be able to provide much superior quality resolution. We’re very excited to launch this product.”

Stay tuned to SPAR for more news from ILMF.

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