LiDAR / Transportation Surveying & Mapping

Driving Mobile LiDAR in DOTs

Mobile LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is an emerging technology that not everyone understands. Even geomatics professionals sometimes have a hard time explaining what it is, and how it can be a benefit to the transportation industry.


To counter that, researchers and professionals from across the country developed “Guidelines for the Use of Mobile LiDAR in Transportation Applications,” a national reference guide offering best practices for integrating mobile LiDAR into state departments of transportation (DOT) workflows. The guide is useful for novices and those with a background in working with mobile LiDAR data, as it provides a technical section in addition to an educational section among its 243 pages.

“You don’t necessarily need mobile LiDAR expertise to pick up the document and use it,” said Michael J. Olsen, professor of geomatics at Oregon State University, who led the team of researchers that produced the guide. “However, the more you know about it and the more you use it … obviously the easier it’s going to be to apply.”


Many state DOTs have been muddling through mobile LiDAR integration on their own. Some states, such as California’s Caltrans, have developed—or are developing—their own best practices. The national report, funded by the Transportation Research Board and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, is designed to assist local transportation agencies with the adoption of mobile LiDAR by establishing a “standard reference and a common basis for understanding and communication,” the report states.

During a webinar to discuss the report, Olsen said the guidelines aren’t intended to replace state or other groups’ efforts to develop best practices but to work inComposite from a couple passes of a vehicle entering an intersection at about 30 mph concert with them. Indeed, all 50 state DOTs responded to the research team’s questionnaire about mobile LiDAR use. The results showed that state DOTs see the value of mobile LiDAR, despite some roadblocks, as mobile LiDAR data collection rates are doubling every 18 months.

Developing partnerships will help transportation departments reduce the initial cost, which the research team concedes is high.

Fred Persi, principal at Persi Consulting, said cost savings are enormous because surveyors don’t have to return to the field time after time to collect additional data for different projects. When everyone is using the same data, costs of acquiring that data is reduced, he said. In this way, state transportation agencies can maximize their investment with only one vehicle in the field.

“If you can collect this data once … it can be mined over and over and over again by multiple groups and multiple people doing multiple things,” Persi said.

In addition, that data needs to live so it can save money on future projects in the same location. The 3D digital models that mobile LiDAR provides can be used as a base map time and again.

The full transition from 2D paper modeling to 3D digital models throughout the United States could take another decade. That’s why education—and how geospatial professionals might educate upper management—is a key component of the guide.

Marcus Reedy, vice president and director of geomatics for David Evans & Associates, advised that transportation groups need to invest in the proper training of personnel.

“If you can get somebody with a passion for this, who likes to work with point clouds and can get into the processing, into the numbers side of the game, they would probably be a good person to have,” Reedy said.


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 Douglas D. Fisher is the managing editor of GeoDataPoint and POB. He can be reached at

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