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Explained: 3D capturing methods

Updated: May 1, 2023

What is 3D LiDAR scanning?

3D LiDAR scanning (Light Detection And Ranging) is a broad term that encompasses a number of remote sensing technologies that use laser pulses to capture a physical object or space's exact size and shape into a 3-dimensional representation.

At its most basic, the 3D LiDAR scanner emits laser pulses at a target to measure distance while collecting bouncing information about what happens to those laser pulses. That information is indexed to create a highly accurate point cloud representation of the target.

This technique captures information like the complex geometry, shape, colourized texture, and other details of the 3D object or space that is scanned. The point cloud model can be imported to various CAD software programs, where it can be used to create as-built models or for other 3D modeling processing purposes. (3d printing, reverse engineering, surveying etc.)

3D LiDAR Scanning: Setup registration proccess. Image courtesy of

What is a point cloud model?

A point cloud model is a 3D visualization in three-dimensional space made up of millions or even tens of millions of georeferenced points. Each point consists of three coordinates that uniquely identify its location with respect to three mutually orthogonal axes.

A 3D point cloud provides high-resolution data without distortion and is commonly used in AEC’s industry-standard software (AutoCAD, Rhinoceros, Revit etc.) Both 3D LiDAR scanning and UAV photogrammetry have several options in exporting point cloud file types such as .e57 , .pts , .las.

Sectional animation: 3D pointcloud model of Athienou's former municipal market. Animation courtesy of

Type of projects that can benefit from 3D LiDAR scanning?

  • Building and construction projects: can be used to create detailed, accurate digital models of existing buildings and structures, which can be used for renovation, retrofitting, and planning new construction projects.

  • Heritage and cultural heritage: can be used to document and preserve historical buildings, structures, and archaeological sites, which can be used for research, education, and public interpretation.

  • Surveying and mapping: can be used to create high-resolution topographical maps, which can be used for land use planning, resource management, and infrastructure development.

  • Real estate: can be used to create detailed, accurate digital models of properties and buildings, which can be used for real estate appraisal, marketing, and virtual staging.

  • Maritime: can be used to survey and map the seabed, creating detailed digital models of the ocean floor, which can be used for oil and gas exploration, port and harbor design, and maritime infrastructure development. Lidar also can be used for safety navigation in autonomous ships and submersible vessels, providing accurate navigation of water surfaces, and obstacles, and even in shallow waters where traditional radar and sonar are not reliable.

  • Industrial and manufacturing: can be used to create detailed, accurate digital models of industrial facilities and equipment, which can be used for maintenance, repair, and replacement planning.

  • Transportation and infrastructure: can be used to survey and map transportation infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and tunnels, which can be used for design, construction, and maintenance planning.

  • Environmental: can be used to survey and map vegetation, wetlands, cliffs, rivers, and other landscapes and biodiversity, useful for monitoring, conservation, and management.

What is UAV photogrammetry?

UAV photogrammetry is the process of using aerial photography taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), also known as a drone, to survey and measure the features of the earth's surface. The photographs are then analyzed using photogrammetric software to produce accurate, high-resolution maps and 3D models of the area captured. UAV photogrammetry can be used for a variety of applications including land surveying, urban planning, disaster response, and environmental monitoring.

UAV survey of urban context & pointcloud. Animations courtes of

Type of projects that can benefit from UAV photogrammetry?

  • Land Surveying: UAVs can be used to quickly and accurately survey large areas of land, including rugged or difficult-to-access terrain. The high-resolution maps and 3D models produced by UAV photogrammetry can be used for land-use planning, property boundary disputes, and other purposes.

  • Agriculture: UAVs equipped with multispectral sensors can be used to create detailed maps of crop health and growth, helping farmers to optimize yields and reduce costs.

  • Construction: UAVs can be used to conduct site inspections, survey progress, and create detailed as-built models of construction sites.

  • Disaster Response: UAVs can be used to quickly assess damage after a natural disaster, helping emergency responders to identify areas in need of immediate attention and plan their response.

  • Environmental Monitoring: UAVs can be used to survey wildlife habitats, track changes in land use, and monitor the health of forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems.

  • Mining & quarrying: UAVs can be used for volume calculation, pit design, quality control, environmental monitoring, and more.

  • Inspection: UAVs can be used to inspect tall buildings, bridges, and other structures, providing a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional methods of inspection.

  • Real estate: UAVs can be used for property showcasing, roof inspection, and many more.

It is worth noting that UAV Photogrammetry can be used in many other industries and fields that are not listed here, this list is not exhaustive.

Benefits of 3D capturing technologies?

3D LiDAR scanning and UAV photogrammetry offer efficient and cost-effective alternatives to traditional surveying methods. 3D LiDAR uses laser technology to create detailed and precise 3D models of objects or environments, while UAV photogrammetry uses aerial photographs taken by unmanned vehicles to create 3D models of large areas of land. Both technologies can cover more ground in less time and can provide detailed, high-resolution data, making them suitable for various industries such as construction, land management, and mapping.

3D LiDAR Scanning:

  • Can create detailed and precise 3D models of objects or environments, such as buildings, bridges, and monuments.

  • Can scan large areas quickly and can provide high-resolution point clouds data

  • High accuracy and precision (can reach millimeter level)

  • Can penetrate vegetation, which makes it useful for natural environments.

  • Can also be used for generating digital terrain models for civil engineering and construction projects.

  • Not only for outdoor but also indoor scanning and mapping.

UAV Photogrammetry:

  • Can survey large areas of land quickly and efficiently, making it suitable for industries such as mining, agriculture, and conservation.

  • Can provide detailed, high-resolution imagery and 3D models

  • Less expensive than manned aerial survey and more efficient

  • Can be used in hard-to-reach or dangerous areas, such as mountainous or densely forested areas.

  • Capable of generating 2D and 3D imagery as well as other geo-referenced information such as digital surface models, contours and ortho-mosaic.

  • Can also be used for monitoring, change detection, and asset management.

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