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Essential LiDAR applications in civil engineering

LiDAR has become crucial in transitioning the world of civil and construction engineering from 2D paper-based to 3D digital design. Any technology that can improve measurement, productivity, and processes will naturally be in demand. A whole new world of opportunities is emerging for the use of LiDAR scanners, expanding the number of viable use cases in civil engineering projects. Here are some top LiDAR applications in this area.

1. Monitoring

Many civil engineering structures have to be permanently monitored to anticipate any warning of structural failure or remediation work. Many bridges, for example, were constructed in the late 1940s and therefore need to be monitored to assess their safety. LiDAR data is a great tool for monitoring as it can pick out small details, such as the conditions of a building or piece of infrastructure. In modern cases, LiDAR and other techniques like BIM can work together; one informs and the other generates real-time snapshots of reality.

2. Planning

Civil engineering projects are mostly large and complex. Therefore they need digital tools and data to plan and design projects. Before LiDAR, much of the data wasn’t current enough to enable the exploitation of digital technology for efficient planning. In these cases, LiDAR provides matching physical space with digital models. Novel planning applications include urban planning, as projects can be tested virtually using LiDAR data and point cloud registration software. LiDAR also helps visualize the early stages of the design process through Three-dimensional walkthroughs (using AR or VR). 

3. Safety

Civil Engineers have a crucial role in ensuring that safety is prioritized above all else. LiDAR has been used for prevention through design to enhance safety. For example, engineers can prioritize the well-being of on-site personnel during the design phase by incorporating anchor points in places where workers are at high risk of falling. Engineers can also use LiDAR-based automation and robotics in dangerous areas. Other novel applications for safety include landslide analysis and flood risk mapping. 

4. Sustainability

The Institution of Civil Engineers has acknowledged the sector’s part in building a more sustainable future. Therefore it’s important for civil engineering companies to ensure that green targets are met. LiDAR-informed projects lend themselves to new sustainable techniques such as prefabrication. Smart cities, for example, can be created to maximize resources and minimize environmental impact. Since planning is key to sustainability, LiDAR-informed construction projects can also help minimize errors during construction thus creating more streamlined and efficient workflows. Some LiDAR sustainability applications include ecological, geological and land classification performed to provide physical and biological information about a landscape. In this case, LiDAR is fundamental to building a comprehensive map of the land.

Advances in LiDAR processing and applications are rapidly expanding the number of viable use cases within civil engineering. Understanding these applications and the technology that makes them possible is critical to improving outcomes. 

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