Much of the technology available to geospatial service providers today was completely unimaginable as little as 10 or even five years ago. That isn’t just my observation. It’s what I heard over and over again at the 2016 MAPPS Winter Conference in Las Vegas and the 2016 International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF) in Denver.

When I’d ask attendees about their take on the current state of the profession, they would most always respond with something like, “It’s amazing how much the technology has evolved and continues to. I can only imagine what’s yet to come.”

With regard to LiDAR innovations specifically, one ILMF panel discussion in particular stands out in my mind. It was titled “Manufacturers’ Perspective: What Value Will Single Photon, Flash and Geiger-Mode LiDAR Bring to the Geospatial Community?” Moderated by Qassim Abdullah, senior geospatial scientist at Woolpert, the presentation and discussion highlighted what’s happening and what’s ahead with LiDAR technology.

For now, linear LiDAR is arguably the most popular and established type of LiDAR technology, but as the title of the session indicates, there are more players on the horizon and the discussion did a sound job of highlighting what’s different about them and what they mean for linear.

So what do flash and Geiger-mode and single photon offer? And are you suddenly behind the times if you recently purchased a new linear sensor?

According to Abdullah, these innovations can be summed up as new approaches to a new architecture of dealing with lasers.

Flash

While not a deliverer of super dense data from super high up, flash LiDAR offers increased efficiency with respect to time. With a single pulse, it is capable of capturing an entire scene. Its real-time advantage can be useful when clients need data right away. It offers denser data than linear LiDAR with relation to distance.

Geiger-Mode

Geiger-mode delivers higher density data than linear, but from much higher in the air than flash. Its main claim to fame is its ability to capture high-resolution data at airplane altitudes. Since more area can be covered in less time form higher up, this technology means that clients with wide-area data needs don’t have to wait as long for results.

Single Photon

Single photon LiDAR, similar to Geiger-mode, allows for larger areas to be assessed in less time without compromising density. However, unlike Geiger-mode and linear, it requires just one photon per range measurement instead of hundreds or thousands of photons per range measurement.

What about Linear?

Linear LiDAR has proved to be a great technology, with many improvements over the years that have taken the geospatial community to where it is today, Abdullah said. “This just adds another dimension to the LiDAR capability . . . We pushed linear as far as we could probably.”

That said, these new LiDAR technologies are quite young, which means they still have quirks to be worked out, full-fledged commercialization has yet to commence, and more awareness of their existence and value still needs to be spread across the geospatial community.

So if you just made a linear LiDAR investment, don’t count yourself irrelevant. The panel agreed that widespread adoption of the new kids on the block could take the better part of a decade.

“I don’t think we’re going to replace linear right away,” Abdullah said. “I think they really complement each other. I think they’ll co-exist until one of them wins.”

Are you an early adopter of flash, single photon and/or Geiger-mode LiDAR? If so, how’s it going so far? Shoot me an email at kingv@bnpmedia.com.