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NYU Captures Densest Public Aerial Lidar Data Ever Recorded

Lidar – also spelled as LIDAR or LiDAR –is a highly sophisticated technology that is primarily used for oceanographic initiatives such as storm surge modeling, shoreline mapping, hydrographic survey and coastal vulnerability analysis. An acronym for Light Detection and Ranging, it works by measuring various distances and ranges from a deployment vehicle, typically a helicopter or airplane, to the Earth below. But a professor with NYU recently found a new use for the technology: urban planning and development.

Looking at the Densest Lidar Dataset Ever

Professor Debra F. Laefer recently led efforts to cover a 1.5km square region of Dublin, Ireland from her office in New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress; and the result is nothing short of spectacular. In fact, with 300 points per square meter, it’s the densest LiDAR dataset we’ve seen to date.

Dr. Laefer explained the exact methodology used in a recent interview, where she stated: “Importantly, we did not use Geiger-mode. We instead used a TopEye system S/N 443. Imagery data was captured using a Phase One camera system. The average flying altitude was 300m with a total of 41 flight paths with a special orientation and multi-pass approach that we developed that sets the orientation of the flight patch diagonal to the main orientation of the street grid. We then used a 67% overlap to rid us of the traditional blindspots that arise from nadir-oriented equipment.”

In non-technical terms, the LiDAR collecting a whopping amount of data. The results contain details on the vertical surfaces of buildings, the overall distribution of buildings throughout the region and even a top-down view of every rooftop within the designated area.

Such data has a variety of useful applications. It can be collated and processed to develop 3D models for landscape design, infrastructure placement and construction feasibility studies. Similar datasets have the potential to be used in tracking the spread of infectious diseases, monitoring autonomous vehicles and operating remote drones in urban settings.

As useful as this data is, not everyone knows how to use it. This remains one of the primary problems with big data in general, but it’s a problem that Dr. Laefer hopes to overcome with time.

Dr. Laefer continued her interview by saying: “We are actively working on a project call urbaneyes that would bring to market an entirely new spatio-temporal database system. Our approach incorporates new indexing strategies that both exploit distributed computing and fully support the integration of a vast array of data types, formats, and granularities that could be queried easily over both time and space. Eventually such a system would be no more difficult to use than a common GPS-based navigation system.”

The Future of LiDAR in Urban Planning

Although Dr. Laefer’s project has yet to publicly launch, it has the potential to transform the way we look at collecting data and even how we process and use the results in the future. We still have a long road ahead before we see the widespread usage of LiDAR in urban environments, but we’ve already taken the first step.


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