Comparing LiDAR to Other Methods

Comparing Aerial LiDAR to Other Surveying Methods: Understanding the Pros and Cons

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In the world of surveying, technology has come a long way, and one of the most significant advancements in recent years is the use of Aerial LiDAR. As professionals continue to search for more accurate, efficient, and cost-effective surveying methods, comparing LiDAR to other surveying methods becomes increasingly important. In this article, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of Aerial LiDAR and compare it with other commonly used surveying techniques, such as photogrammetry, terrestrial LiDAR, total stations, and GPS/GNSS.

Overview of Surveying Methods

Before we dive into comparing Aerial LiDAR to other surveying methods, let’s briefly overview the main surveying techniques used in various industries.

Aerial LiDAR

Aerial LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses lasers to measure distances to the Earth’s surface. The technology is mounted on an aircraft or drone and emits laser pulses, which bounce off the ground and return to the sensor. By calculating the time it takes for the pulses to return, the system can generate accurate elevation data and create detailed 3D models of the landscape.


Photogrammetry is a technique that uses high-resolution images captured from aerial platforms, such as drones or manned aircraft, to create 3D models of the Earth’s surface. It relies on overlapping images and advanced software to generate accurate spatial information, including elevation data and orthophotos.

Terrestrial LiDAR

Terrestrial LiDAR, similar to Aerial LiDAR, uses laser technology to measure distances, but it is ground-based. This method is often used for surveying smaller areas, such as buildings, infrastructure, and archaeological sites. Terrestrial LiDAR systems are typically mounted on tripods or vehicles and can produce highly detailed 3D models of the surveyed area.

Traditional Ground Surveying

Traditional ground surveying includes methods like total stations and GPS/GNSS, which are widely used in land surveying, construction, and engineering projects.

Total Stations

Total stations are electronic/optical instruments that combine theodolites and electronic distance measurement (EDM) capabilities. They are used to measure horizontal and vertical angles, as well as distances, to calculate accurate positions of points on the Earth’s surface. Total stations are commonly used for land surveying, construction stakeout, and topographic mapping.


Global Positioning System (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) are satellite-based positioning technologies that provide accurate location data in real-time. Survey-grade GPS/GNSS receivers can achieve centimeter-level accuracy, making them suitable for various surveying applications, including land surveying, construction, and asset management.

Comparing Aerial LiDAR to Other Surveying Methods

Now that we have a basic understanding of the main surveying methods, let’s compare Aerial LiDAR to these techniques based on several factors.


Aerial LiDAR is known for its high accuracy, often achieving elevation accuracy of 10-15 cm or better. Photogrammetry can provide similar accuracy levels, but it depends on factors like image resolution, camera quality, and flight altitude. Terrestrial LiDAR and total stations also offer high accuracy, often within millimeters or centimeters, but their application is typically limited to smaller areas. GPS/GNSS, when used with survey-grade receivers, can achieve centimeter-level accuracy.

Speed and Efficiency

Aerial LiDAR can cover large areas quickly, making it an efficient choice for extensive surveying projects. Photogrammetry is also capable of covering large areas but may require more time for image processing. Terrestrial LiDAR and total stations are slower and less efficient for large-scale projects, as they require more time and effort to set up and move equipment. GPS/GNSS surveys can be relatively fast, but their efficiency depends on the size of the project and satellite coverage.


Aerial LiDAR, especially when using drones, is generally more cost-effective than manned aircraft surveys. However, it may still be more expensive than other methods like photogrammetry, total stations, or GPS/GNSS, especially for smaller projects. The cost of a survey depends on factors such as equipment, labor, software, and data processing.

Terrain and Accessibility

Aerial LiDAR is particularly useful in surveying areas with difficult or inaccessible terrain, such as forests, mountains, and wetlands. It can quickly and efficiently gather data in these challenging environments without the need for ground-based equipment or personnel. Photogrammetry also offers advantages in difficult terrain, but it may be less effective in areas with dense vegetation or poor visibility. Terrestrial LiDAR, total stations, and GPS/GNSS may face challenges in these environments, as they require on-the-ground access and line-of-sight between points.

Data Processing and Analysis

Aerial LiDAR data processing can be complex and time-consuming but offers a high level of detail and flexibility in data analysis. Photogrammetry also requires advanced software for processing and analysis but can provide rich visual data, such as orthophotos and textured 3D models. Terrestrial LiDAR data processing is similar to Aerial LiDAR, while total stations and GPS/GNSS usually require less complex data processing, as they provide point-based data rather than dense point clouds.

Pros and Cons of Aerial LiDAR

Now that we have compared Aerial LiDAR to other surveying methods let’s explore its advantages and disadvantages.


  1. High accuracy: Aerial LiDAR offers high accuracy in elevation data, often within 10-15 cm or better.
  2. Efficiency: LiDAR technology can quickly cover large areas, making it an efficient choice for extensive surveying projects.
  3. Terrain flexibility: Aerial LiDAR is particularly useful for surveying difficult or inaccessible terrain, such as forests, mountains, and wetlands.
  4. Rich data: LiDAR generates dense point clouds, which can be used to create detailed 3D models, digital elevation models (DEMs), and other valuable datasets.
  5. Vegetation penetration: LiDAR can penetrate dense vegetation to some extent, providing more accurate ground data in forested areas compared to photogrammetry.


  1. Cost: Aerial LiDAR can be more expensive than other surveying methods, particularly for smaller projects.
  2. Data processing complexity: LiDAR data processing can be complex and time-consuming, requiring specialized software and expertise.
  3. Weather limitations: LiDAR surveys may be affected by adverse weather conditions, such as heavy rain or fog, which can influence the quality of the data.

Applications of Aerial LiDAR Across Various Industries

Aerial LiDAR has revolutionized the surveying and mapping industry with its high accuracy, efficiency, and versatility. It is widely used across multiple sectors for various purposes. Let’s explore some key applications of Aerial LiDAR in different industries.

Forestry and Natural Resources Management

Aerial LiDAR is invaluable in forestry and natural resources management for its ability to penetrate dense vegetation and provide accurate ground data. Applications in this sector include:

  1. Forest inventory and management: LiDAR helps in determining tree heights, canopy density, and overall forest structure, facilitating better forest management practices.
  2. Biomass and carbon stock assessment: Estimating the biomass and carbon stocks in forests is essential for understanding the role of forests in climate change and developing sustainable forest management plans.
  3. Habitat mapping and biodiversity conservation: LiDAR data can be used to create detailed habitat maps, enabling more targeted conservation efforts and better understanding of species distribution.

Infrastructure and Transportation Planning

Aerial LiDAR has become indispensable in infrastructure and transportation projects due to its high accuracy and ability to cover large areas quickly. Key applications include:

  1. Route planning and design: LiDAR is used to generate accurate topographic data, which is crucial for designing roads, railways, pipelines, and other linear infrastructure.
  2. Construction monitoring and asset management: LiDAR helps monitor construction progress and manage existing infrastructure assets, ensuring their safety and efficiency.
  3. Urban planning and development: Aerial LiDAR can provide detailed 3D models of urban areas, assisting in informed decision-making for sustainable urban development.

Mining and Quarrying

In the mining and quarrying industry, Aerial LiDAR is used to improve safety, efficiency, and environmental compliance. Some key applications are:

  1. Exploration and site assessment: LiDAR can help identify potential mineral deposits and assess the suitability of sites for mining or quarrying operations.
  2. Volume calculations and stockpile monitoring: Accurate volume measurements are essential for monitoring material extraction and ensuring regulatory compliance.
  3. Slope stability analysis and hazard mitigation: LiDAR data can be used to analyze slope stability and identify potential hazards, improving safety in mining and quarrying operations.

Environmental Monitoring and Disaster Management

Aerial LiDAR plays a critical role in environmental monitoring and disaster management, helping to assess risks and mitigate the impacts of natural hazards. Key applications include:

  1. Flood risk assessment and management: LiDAR-generated digital elevation models (DEMs) are used to map flood-prone areas and develop flood risk management plans.
  2. Coastal zone management: Aerial LiDAR can provide accurate data on coastal topography and vegetation, helping to address erosion, sea-level rise, and other coastal management challenges.
  3. Landslide detection and monitoring: LiDAR data can be used to identify areas susceptible to landslides and monitor slope movements over time, assisting in disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.

Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

Aerial LiDAR has proven to be a valuable tool for archaeologists and cultural heritage professionals. Some of its applications in this field are:

  1. Site discovery and mapping: LiDAR can reveal previously unknown archaeological sites and help create detailed maps of existing ones, even in areas with dense vegetation or difficult terrain.
  2. 3D modeling and visualization: High-resolution 3D models generated from LiDAR data can help researchers better understand and visualize archaeological sites and cultural landscapes.
  3. Preservation and monitoring: Aerial LiDAR can aid in monitoring changes to archaeological sites and cultural heritage assets over time, facilitating their preservation and management.

In conclusion, Aerial LiDAR has emerged as a powerful surveying method, offering high accuracy, speed, and efficiency compared to traditional techniques. However, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each method based on the specific needs of your project. By understanding the various surveying methods and their applications, you can make an informed decision about the best approach for your needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the applications and benefits of Aerial LiDAR, we encourage you to read our Aerial LiDAR 101 guide. And if you require any drone services for your project, don’t hesitate to contact Blue Falcon Aerial. Our team of experts is ready to assist you in finding the perfect solution to meet your surveying needs.

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