Day: March 29, 2016

The Benefits of 3D Elevation

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Spring is just around the corner, and that means it’s planting time for the Nation’s farmers. Many of them rely on high-tech farming practices such as in-depth analyses of soil samples, and prescription application of seed, fertilizer, water, pesticides and herbicides, and more.  For all of these applications, three-dimensional elevation data, and a whole host of other cutting-edge information are brought together in a process known as precision farming.

A white paper from the USGS entitled, “3D Elevation – We’ve Got You Covered in all 50 States” plus Puerto Rico provides a number of interesting examples of the benefits of investing in lidar data acquisition on a national scale. This is part of the justification of the 3DEP program.Image shows a cartoon of an airplane on a blue background with laser pulses extending to the ground.

From the paper, “One of the most promising realms of this new technological integration is the advance of 3- dimensional elevation data. A 21st century update to traditional topographic mapping, 3D elevation data relies on high-tech tools like lidar and IfSAR to produce extremely detailed maps of everything from geologic features to buildings.”

The paper explains, “For instance, in Iowa’s corn country, it’s no surprise that 3DEP’s primary benefit is in agriculture and precision farming. By having detailed measurements of elevation, farmers can determine crop rows, crop spacing, fertilizer applications, and irrigation with the utmost accuracy. That makes the entire operation more efficient, yielding more bushels of corn per dollar spent. A national assessment to document business uses indicates that 3DEP could result in at least $18.8 million in new benefits annually to the Hawkeye State. Nationwide, the value to America’s farmers of public domain lidar for all agriculture and precision farming is potentially worth up to $2 billion annually.


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Apple patents a new type of LiDAR system for 3D mapping

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With Apple’s aggressive expansion into geospatial data has come a new focus on research into foundational sensors and systems related to the field, including a newly granted patent that covers an in-house LiDAR device for more accurately capturing three-dimensional scenes.

The patent — with the somewhat impenetrable moniker “3D depth point cloud from timing flight of 2D scanned light beam pulses” — lays out the hardware and functional specifications of a new LiDAR sensor. Apple’s design unsurprisingly includes a fixed mirror, a scanning mirror, a photodetector and a laser emitter.


Images: Apple’s new LiDAR system, A Velodyne LiDAR system on Apple’s mapping vans

Apple chose to pursue its own LiDAR technology because current sensing techniques could suffer from “excessive power consumption, limited x-y resolution, limited depth resolution or accuracy, limited frame rate, and long product development cycles,” according to the patent. The company’s new system would alleviate some or all of these issues. Accuracy in three-dimensional spatial data is especially important to Apple as the company ramps up its own in-house mapping efforts.

In addition to mass consumer products like the Apple Maps app, this kind of hyper-accurate mapping data is vital to the development of self-driving vehicles. Apple has long been rumored to be working on an autonomous “Apple Car,” for which the new invention could be a good fit.