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Posted 14.12.20

LiDAR: A Quest for Lasers

You may have heard the word LiDAR at some point over the last 12 months. It’s a fantastic feature that we use in a range of Apple products. We answer a few of your key questions about what it is, why we use it, and what it could mean for the future of design and education.

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR or light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing measurement method. For over half a century people have been using LiDAR to measure thing like the depth of the ocean’s surface, and to locate an object in the case of a maritime accident. It has also been used for a variety of research purposes.

How old is LiDAR?

LiDAR was first introduced in 1961 by Hughes Aircraft Company. One of the earliest recorded uses was in the United States’ space program; the technology was instrumental in mapping out the 1971 Apollo 15 mission.  

Why do we use LiDAR?

In March 2020, Apple made what seemed the impossible possible – by incorporating the LiDAR scanning technology into the new iPad Pro. On its launch Apple said “There’s no other device in the world like the new iPad Pro and we think our customers are going to love it”. Apple have subsequently also added LiDAR to the new iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. iOS app developers are using LiDAR to enhance their Augmented Reality (AR) Apps, with LiDAR helping with the instant placement of the AR objects in the real world without scanning them.

How does it work?

LiDAR uses a pulsed laser to record the time it takes for the signal to return back to itself. This means it uses multiple waves to calculate an accurate reading of the depth of a surface. The laser travels at nano-seconds speeds.

What other uses does it have?

LiDAR has been used in a wide range of projects to date, and is also being positioned for use in developing technologies – the most prominent being automotive systems designed to assist self-driving cars, and automatic steering safety features. There is also the potential for exciting applications in fields like construction.

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