Seven Ways 3D Lidar Is Transforming Our Physical World

Lauren Orsini | Say Media Inc. | October 15, 2013

The Future is here and it's made of lasers.

Picture a technology that creates perfect 3D replicas used for archeological discovery, crime-scene investigation and virtual-reality entertainment—and I'm not talking about the Enterprise Holodeck. Far from science fiction, it already exists and it's called lidar.

Even if you’ve never heard of lidar, you’ve heard about the things it can do. The technology has been harnessed for everything from the Makerbot 3D printer to Google’s potential self-driving car. Existing in some form since the ‘60s, lidar a light-based radar that senses and analyzes reflected light in order to make an exact 3D copy of any shape or environment.

Dr. Aaron Morris, a roboticist and entrepreneur on the cutting edge of 3D lidar research, said that in laypersons’ terms, think of lidar as a kind of virtual tape measurer, “except instead of rolling out a physical tape measure, it’s a beam of light, and a sensor measures how long it takes for it to bounce back to its source.” Multiply that bouncing laser beam by the thousands, make the source a rotating mirror, put the whole thing on a moving rover and you’ve got millions of data points mapping out a 360 degree view of a 3D space.

Though it sounds simple, the resulting breakthroughs have been nothing short of revolutionary. Here are seven ways that lidar is helping us live in the future.