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Don't Buy a LiDAR Drone Until You Read This!

Aerial LiDAR systems for drones offer an efficient and cost-effective means of acquiring highly accurate surveying and mapping data. In recent years, this technology has undergone significant evolution, making it accessible to a wider range of users. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the workings of LiDAR systems, their associated costs, and how to make informed choices when selecting the right LiDAR system for your specific needs.

Evolution of LiDAR Technology

LiDAR technology has been in existence since the 1960s, primarily utilized in manned aircraft and terrestrial applications. However, recent advancements in LiDAR sensors and drone technology have resulted in smaller, lighter, and more affordable sensors. Concurrently, drones have become more reliable with extended flight times. These developments have made LiDAR mapping drones both viable and accessible for a broader audience. Today you can find LiDAR technology in your pocket!

How LiDAR Systems Work:

LiDAR systems comprise three core components: the LiDAR sensor, which emits and records reflected light energy; an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) that tracks the sensor's 3D spatial orientation; and GPS for geospatial positioning. Processing software integrates this raw data to generate a 3D point cloud, which forms the basis of LiDAR-derived information. The key differentiating factor between all the LiDAR systems on the market is the type of LiDAR sensor used and the quality of the IMU component which will ultimately contribute the quality of your data.

How much do drone LiDAR systems cost?

LiDAR System: The LiDAR system itself is the costliest component, with prices varying widely. Entry-level LiDARs like the DJI Zenmuse L1 start at around $8,543 USD, mid-range options like the GreenValley LiAir X3 are in the mid $25,000 range, while professional-grade systems like Riegl can exceed $250,000 USD.

Drone Platform: The drone platform's cost depends on the LiDAR system you choose. As of 2023, the DJI Matrice 300/350 is a popular choice for LiDAR scanning and starts at around $10,000 USD. Additional expenses, such as batteries (approximately $2,000 USD per set), should also be factored in.

LiDAR Processing Software: The cost of LiDAR processing software is often underestimated. Expect to spend an additional $5,000 to $10,000 USD or more, depending on your specific deliverables. Two software models exist: perpetual licensing and cloud-based pay-per-use. Choose wisely, as the latter can significantly increase operational costs.

RTK Survey Equipment: RTK equipment is essential for setting ground control points and ensuring data quality. Options range from Trimble Catalyst receivers (around $1,000 USD) to mid-range GreenValley Libase (around $3,000 USD).

Maintenance: Regular calibration maintenance for LiDAR systems, which can cost upwards of $1,000 USD per year, ensures optimal performance. Drone maintenance typically includes minor tasks like propeller replacement and airframe checks, amounting to less than $200 USD annually.

Total Cost Breakdown:

A minimum investment in a drone-based LiDAR package typically starts at approximately $25,000 USD, excluding training, insurance, and other business-related expenses.

Choosing the Right LiDAR System:

  • Required Deliverables: Determine your specific deliverable needs, as certain LiDAR processing software offers industry-specific modules for tasks like forestry analysis, terrain modeling, or powerline corridor segmentation.
  • Operational Environment: The environment in which you'll use LiDAR is critical. Different systems excel in various scenarios, such as volumetrics, infrastructure surveying, vegetation-heavy areas, GPS-denied environments, or government projects requiring high-grade accuracy.
  • Project Size: Understand your project's size and coverage area. Drone flight times are a limiting factor, with typical flight times around 30 minutes. Based on variables like flight speed, overlap percentage, and altitude, you can conservatively scan a 60-hectare area in one flight with a drone like the Matrice 300.

LiDAR Drone options:

We provide tailor-made training programs that are designed to meet your specific requirements. Whether you require training for obtaining a drone license, learning how to operate drones effectively for data collection, or mastering data processing techniques, our nationwide team is ready to travel to your location and deliver the training you need. This will empower you with the confidence to make the most of this technology.

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DJI Matrice 350 RTK + Zenmuse L2

Plug and play, easy to use

  • Supporting 5 returns
  • 250m/450m Detection Range
  • Integrated with DJI system for live data preview
  • Tilt capability for façade scans
  • Built-in 20MP RGB camera
  • Requires D-RTK base station ($2,900 USD)

Starting at $24,030 USD

DJI Matrice 350 RTK + GreenValley X3-H 

More control over your survey

  • Improved IMU for higher data quality
  • Greater data processing control
  • Option to use your own base station
  • Higher resolution camera (26MP)
  • Up to 720k points per second

Starting at $27,000 USD

DJI Matrice 350 RTK + GreenValley X3C-H

Higher resolution data

  • Premium IMU
  • Hesai 360° FOV sensor
  • Up to 1.9 million points per second

Starting at $35,000 USD

GreenValley LiAir 250 Pro

Survey grade

  • Riegl Sensor supporting 5 returns
  • Riegl 360° FOV sensor
  • 200k points per second

Starting at $138,000 USD

Draganfly Long Range LIDAR

No compromise in accuracy

  • Velodyne Sensor supporting 4 returns
  • Hesai 360° FOV sensor
  • 775 meter range

Starting at $200,000 USD

DJI Matrice 350 RTK + Emesent Hovermap ST-X

For GPS-denied evironments

  • Single Return Mode: up to 640,000 points/sec Multi Return Mode (3 returns): up to 1,920,000 points/sec
  • Hesai Sensor
  • 300 meter range

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Software solutions for LiDAR:

LiDAR 360 Frame work

  • Multi-source Massive Data Visualization
  • Point Cloud Data Quality Check
  • Point Cloud Classification
  • Data Splicing

Forestry Module

  • Forest metric extration
  • Individual tree measurement
  • Forest regression analysis

Terrain Module

  • DEM / DSM Models
  • Contour lines
  • DTM models

Mining Module

  • Volume calculations
  • Mine Tunnel Section Analysis

Powerline Module

  • Safe distance threshold modeling
  • Tree / vegetation detecttion


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