New advanced LiDAR on a fixed wing UAV

19 July 2017

Carbomap, an environmental survey company, in collaboration with high-performance LiDAR manufacturer RIEGL, UAVE and The University of Edinburgh, has announced the first successful demonstration flight of a RIEGL VUX-1LR survey-grade waveform laser scanner on a fixed wing, long range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

This is likely the first time that such a high-performance scanner has ever flown on a fixed wing UAV with such an advanced specification for long duration (8 hrs) and long range (1,000 km). With centimetre-scale 3-dimensional accuracy, this breakthrough development will greatly increase the worldwide accessibility to high-quality laser scanning (known as LiDAR).

Throughout the world, LiDAR data is used for mapping infrastructure, conducting forest inventory, and determining flood risk in river basins, for example. However, obtaining such high-quality 3D data can be very expensive to obtain using conventional airborne surveys.

It is difficult to process without specialised software, and as a consequence, it is rarely available in most developing nations. By bringing such instruments together into a single UAV system (named Forest-Lux or F-Lux, for short), together with its own solution-focused software, it is now possible to get a system that can be a local asset, under local stakeholder control, and be operated at an affordable price in any country in the world.

F-Lux is based around the 4m wing-span Prion Mk3, manufactured by UAVE, which can fly beyond visible line of sight courtesy of an onboard autopilot. With a 1,000 km range, the F-Lux can cover up to 800 km2 in a single day. The key advantage of using a fixed-wing UAV for forest monitoring over a multi-rotor is the flight endurance, which significantly brings down the cost of data collection per hectare.

The LiDAR sensor is the RIEGL VUX-1LR, an industry leading, compact and lightweight, long-range LiDAR sensor, equipped with an optional waveform output – for the first time in a RIEGL VUX. Thus, the sensor provides RIEGL’s proprietary Smart Waveform® included in the data stream – resulting in an information and attribute rich, intelligent point cloud.

It can operate up to 650 m in altitude and collects full waveform LiDAR data, collecting data throughout the forest canopy and can provide vital information about what’s happening on the forest floor. World experts agree that this ability is vital for producing the very best forest metrics.

The final element in the bundle is the real-time processing component, called instant-Omega. The instant-Omega is the software element of the F-Lux package, developed by Edinburgh-based, forest LiDAR experts, Carbomap. This software can achieve real-time processing and metrics production, which offers the users the unique ability of having the data already on The Cloud by the time they return to the office. A built-in hardware solution for this software is under development.