Getting the Most Out of LiDAR Data Collection

Posted by Ashley Little on July 28, 2020

LiDAR Drone

In the past several years, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) has grown from a technology primarily used by the military, law enforcement, and large engineering firms into a useful tool for many other industries. In the U.S., LiDAR is used by multiple industries, and, increasingly, electric utilities. 

LiDAR uses pulses of laser light to measure distances. A high-resolution LiDAR survey of a few miles of utility assets, for example, may measure the height of poles, the placement and size of attachments on the poles, the degree of sag in the lines, the surrounding terrain, and any vegetation encroaching on the assets.

Once a utility has decided to add LiDAR to its data-gathering package, a major question is how to get the most out of the data being collected. While prices continue to drop, LiDAR is still not cheap technology, especially airborne LiDAR, and companies that use it want to optimize its usefulness.

LiDAR data accuracy varies depending on the points per second emitted by the unit. Generally, it’s accurate within an inch or, at the higher resolution levels, a fraction of an inch.

The finer the resolution, the more data LiDAR produces. Higher-end systems can collect 250 gigabytes of data per hour. LiDAR devices can be handheld scanners or backpack units; they also can be mounted on vehicles, drone aircraft, airplanes, or helicopters. The variety of LiDAR products available continues to expand.

What LiDAR Can Do for Utilities

Here are some of the more common uses:

  • Structural load analysis for storm hardening – With strong data management software, LiDAR measurements of utility assets can be used to determine the level of stress from strong winds that each pole is capable of withstanding. With the number and intensity of extreme weather events rising since the beginning of this century, many utilities, especially in coastal states, are undertaking wide-scale storm hardening programs to strengthen their plant. This requires collecting up-to-date data on thousands or even millions of poles.

  • Structural load analysis for joint use – Small cell attachments on poles are increasing exponentially as part of the nationwide 5G rollout. Joint use professionals at utilities need to know how much additional equipment can be attached to each pole without compromising its structural integrity. LiDAR data can be used in making such determinations.

  • Line analysis – LiDAR can measure the height of a power line at midspan to identify excessive sag that may need addressing.

  • Validation of make-ready work – LiDAR can measure everything on the pole to ensure that attachments are properly placed and spaced.

  • Vegetation management – While LiDAR is measuring the assets themselves, it also shows where vegetation is encroaching on power lines. A LiDAR survey of a long stretch of line can quickly pinpoint trouble spots. Repeated LiDAR surveys also can be used to calculate the growth rate of adjacent trees for more strategic and precise management.

  • Substation maintenance –Some companies are turning to LiDAR data to create a 3D digital twin of each substation that can be used in planning upgrades and maintenance.

  • Terrain mapping for new construction – LiDAR is ideal for measuring terrain grades and is used by many industries for that purpose. Flood-control specialists have used it to map riverbeds. City governments have used it to measure the grades of curb-access ramps for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Utilities can use it in decision-making when expanding their plants. LiDAR measurements also can be used for right-of-way verification and to detect any changes in surrounding terrain that may have an impact on existing assets.

A Complete Data Package

LiDAR data itself has many uses, but when combined with other collection methods, it can provide a comprehensive picture of a company’s assets.

For example, a single drone on a mapping flight could carry a LiDAR scanning device for measurements, one or two high-resolution digital cameras for visuals, and a thermal imaging camera to detect equipment that’s running hotter than normal and could be in danger of failure.

Similarly, a ground survey could pair a handheld laser scanner with high-resolution photography and personal observations. This combination is especially helpful in joint use.

Bringing it All Together

LiDAR has a lot to offer, but raw data processing is a big job, and it requires top-notch asset management software because the finer the resolution, the larger the file size. 

Once the data is collected, good software can make it accessible for multiple uses by multiple departments and for sharing with contractors and third-party attaching companies, if desired, based on the specific need or mission.

At Alden, we know how to capture asset data using LiDAR that utilities can use, and we know what to do with it once it has been collected.

Alden One®, our nationally recognized joint use asset management platform, is an ideal tool for organizing and communicating your important data, whether you outsource collection or handle it in house—and whether you use LiDAR, some other collection method, or a mix of methods, as many utilities do.

The wealth of useful data gathered through today’s technology cannot be managed adequately on paper or even basic digital spreadsheets. In the current hectic joint use environment, data needs to be easy to access, ready to use, and easy to manipulate and mobilize for multiple purposes.

Alden has great software, a collaborative spirit and innovative industry partners. We supply useful information and updates on industry trends. We put the full force of a friendly, helpful support and training staff behind our products.

If you would like to learn more, contact a product specialist here.

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