Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) is a technology used to create high-resolution models of ground elevation with a vertical accuracy of 10 cm (4 inches). LiDAR equipment include a laser scanner, a global positioning system (GPS), and an inertial navigation system (INS) and is typically mounted on a small aircraft. The technology is used to examine natural and manmade environments in industries such as automotive, aerospace & defense, oil & gas, mining, civil engineering, forestry & agriculture, and transportation for aerial survey, mapping, detecting, and providing 3D elevation data.
Over the last few years, the growing popularity of drones in applications such as power line inspection, topographic mapping, emergency response, and agricultural & forestry surveys has boosted the global demand for LiDAR technology. The integration of modern mapping technologies and navigation & positioning systems have increased the benefits of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) offerings. Advances in dynamic sensor technologies, such as accident prevention & warning systems, have expanded UAV offerings and improved their appeal. Specific sensors have optical altimeter technology integrated, enabling accurate measurements and computations based on the weights and sizes necessary for various applications.
Multiple industries are increasing their use of LiDAR technology for accurate mapping & object detection as the range of surveys has increased significantly. Manufacturing companies are focused on developing cost-effective LiDAR technologies for UAVs. For instance, in April 2021, Shanghai Huace Navigation Technology Ltd. (China) launched the most cost-effective, accurate, and lightest LiDAR system, AlphaAir 450 (AA450), for UAVs. The system is suitable for power line inspection, topographic mapping, emergency response, agricultural & forestry surveys, and many other applications. Moreover, in April 2021, drone manufacturing giant SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. (China) developed its affordable LiDAR drone system, Zenmuse L1, for aerial drone LiDAR mapping.
Advances in LiDAR drone systems have enabled several industries to generate spatial data, map elevation, and analyze land morphology in dangerous environments, such as in the aftermath of earthquakes and floods. The systems also allow surveyors to work on roads at night, which can otherwise be potentially dangerous. These are the primary reasons industries prefer drone mapping over ground-based mapping or manual operations. Thus, the shift from terrestrial mapping to airborne mapping and the advances in LiDAR UAVs are expected to drive the growth of the global LiDAR market
Technological advancements have made autonomous vehicles a real-world possibility, with many automotive manufacturers heavily investing in developing such vehicles due to the increasing demand. Autonomous vehicles are completely driven by sensors and electronics, ensuring a complete driverless experience. LiDAR sensors are crucial in such vehicles as they are major components of essential systems such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assistance, lane-departure warning, and collision warning that can limit the rising number of accidents that occur due to human errors.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 90% of road traffic deaths occur due to human error, overspeeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or other psychoactive substances, and not using motorcycle helmets, seat belts, and child restraints, among many other reasons. To address these issues, many OEMs are integrating LiDAR sensors into autonomous vehicles, enabling them to detect objects and provide emergency braking assistance, alongside many other features. For instance, in January 2022, German automotive giant Mercedes-Benz Group AG acquired a stake in LiDAR manufacturing company Luminar Technologies, Inc. (U.S.). The acquisition will enable Mercedes to produce vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities.
The launch of autonomous vehicles, demonstration programs, and OEMs’ partnerships with sensor manufacturing companies are propelling the development of new and advanced LiDAR sensors, driving the growth of the LiDAR market. Presently, more than 80 automobile companies are testing self-driving cars, and the adoption of autonomous vehicles is expected to gain traction by 2025. The sales of autonomous vehicles are expected to cross 12 million units by 2035, and by 2050, all vehicles are expected to be autonomous. According to Nissan, 55% of small businesses are expected to operate fully autonomous fleets within two decades.
Additionally, governments of various countries are also heavily investing in government & private sector projects to encourage LiDAR adoption across the globe. For instance, in July 2021, the Korean government invested USD 12 million in Seoul Robotics, a 3D computer vision company based in South Korea. The USD 12 million investment is in addition to previous funding from the Korean government, including a USD 3 million grant for autonomous vehicle deployment. Oregon’s Department of Transportation (U.S.) recently announced an opportunity that will determine how LiDAR data will be used once it is gathered. ODOT plans to spend USD 265,000 between 2022 and 2024 on specialized software capable of mining and organizing raw LiDAR data. Findings from the data will then aid statewide decisions on asset maintenance and transportation safety.
Moreover, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans to invest USD 500,000 in supporting a statewide LiDAR plan from 2022 to 2023. The funding will be used as the state pivots to a new, LiDAR-based inventory for forestry services. The data will help state officials assess changing environmental conditions, improve forest modeling, and predict environment-related outcomes. Thus, increasing government investments in LiDAR technology are expected to boost LiDAR adoption, driving the growth of this market.
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