Throughout its history, lidar has been one of the very few technologies in which the exponential growth in the hardware’s ability to collect data has outpaced software’s growing ability to process and visualize that data—largely because it is an unstructured point cloud, unlike raster data, which consists of rows of pixels. Software is catching up, however, offering new ways to manage, edit, and visualize point-cloud data.
At the same time, traditional lidar is being challenged by two new and potentially alternative technologies: multi-ray photogrammetry and Flash Lidar, which also generate point-clouds. The former can be used to increase the performance of both light and cheap consumer-grade cameras and of large high-end aerial sensors. Both may soon make 3D sensors small and light enough to be deployed on small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).