Future prospects of Airborne laser scanning

Airborne laser scanning has had a fast and most successful development. Today, it is an established method with high technical and economic performance. Where does it stand now? Has Airborne laser scanning reached its culmination, or can further developments be expected? If we evaluate and extrapolate its present status, the trend becomes clearly evident that the application of airborne laser scanning will continue to expand, in combination with a further deployment of the technological potential. Airborne laser scanning can be safely anticipated that the present technical performance of laser scanning systems will be extended and used in more diversified applications.

Pulse rates and resolution of Airborne laser scanning, in terms of size and spacing of footprints, may become more adaptive. Platforms on low-flying helicopters can provide refined ground information for special applications up to monitoring of local scenes. On the other hand, the absolute system accuracy may still be increased, and higher flying heights will provide larger area coverage. Such pending developments will mainly be application-motivated. We may also see refined electronic analysis of the return signals from which additional information about surface characteristics of the footprints on the ground can be derived.

Another item will be the comparison between pulsed and CW lasers. It may also be mentioned that there is a potential competition with DTMs derived by interferometric SAR, although the latter still operates in a different accuracy and scale range. It can be anticipated that a certain consolidation and extension of the laser scanning method will take place in the near future, concerning data processing, in view of extended and also more specialised applications. This progress will concern intelligent filtering and thinning out of data. It will also imply more complete information extraction by more sophisticated object modelling, in particular, with regard to objects and features, which are not directly captured.

Examples may be geomorphologic structures, landscape modelling, city models, change detection or integration and comparison with existing databases. With increasing and extended applications, new business opportunities will certainly emerge with the result that airborne laser scanning, in combination with other techniques, will constitute an indispensable, powerful, and highly economic method in the world of geographic information acquisition. Here, however, a critical remark may be appropriate. The user community hopes very much that, contrary to the present trend, in future, the system parameters and algorithms will be sufficiently disclosed to allow judgment of performance. In addition, standards should be established for ensuring operational reliability and quality.

In view of more fundamental further developments of airborne laser scanning, we take a look at the present restrictions. There is the basic limitation set by the geometric nature and the sampling system of the method, with its blindness about the capture and identification of objects and object features.

What is missing is additional image information. Follow our next post for further discussion.