LiDAR technology and drones

American industrial drone maker Microdrone recently showcased the LiDAR capabilities of their new drone, which the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is using to improve efficiency and safety in the construction and maintenance of road projects around the state.

Microdrone, who have an office in South Africa, recently launched their latest drone – the mdLiDAR1000HR (yes, the name is rather mouthful) – which, according to the company’s Chief Operations Officer Frank Darmayan, “increases the distance from which details can be captured. It can capture powerline details at 75m for distribution and 90m for transmission, effectively doubling the range of our mdLiDAR1000HR system. Flying at 70m from the powerlines, at 8m/s allows for efficient location of the powerlines with roughly 10 points per linear meter and capturing great detail of the towers.

“The mdLiDAR1000LR is also a great tool for scanning large mines and measuring stockpile volumes. Flying at 100m AGL with 20 percent sidelap, the LR can cover over 1.2 square kilometres in a 30-minute flight, capturing a point density of 150 points per square meter.”

The new drone can be used for geospatial data collection in operations that include digital twin creation and maintenance

corridor mapping; mining, construction site monitoring, environmental changes, forestry, contour mapping, planning, levelling, excavation, archaeology and cultural heritage, highway construction and precision agriculture.

For the record, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a method for determining ranges or distances by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. The reflected light data is then converted into distance measurements creating a 3-D model of what was measured.

According to a statement from Microdot, the MDOT recently acquired the mdLiDAR1000HR and took it out for a spin mapping out road construction projects in the state.

This makes Mississippi one of the first states in southeast USA to use LiDAR drone technology for state transportation operations.

The LiDAR drones will allow MDOT workers to perform tasks in the field much faster than using traditional measuring tools. The technology will also increase safety for MDOT workers, greatly reducing the time they spend working in or near moving traffic.

“We use it to take measurements on the roadway, so a lot of the data we have to report to the Federal Highway involves things like lane widths, shoulder widths, and things such as that,” said Evan Wright, from the planning division at MDOT.

“Before, we’d actually have to get out in the field, either using a tape measure or a distance wheel, and physically be in the road.”

The drone company explains that the information collected by the LiDAR would be transferred to computers belonging to the MDOT planning division, where engineers can work on road projects without having to spend long hours in the field taking measurements.

“Accessing projects in a virtual point cloud also has other benefits,” the company says.  “Data collected by LiDAR simulates a 3D environment and is extremely accurate, which allows engineers to take extra measurements without ever leaving their desks.”

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