Usually, I don’t blog much about work or serious topics in general. However, there are some really interesting developments taking place in the survey world at the moment and after all, there’s nothing cooler than playing with lasers, just ask any Bond baddie.

PrometheusIn the Ridley Scott movie Prometheus a group of scientists discover an ancient alien planet and they map a network of underground tunnels using floating laser scanners. The scanners float like small hovering balls and then fly off whilst laser scanning the passages. They then send back scan data to the crew on the space ship allowing them to view the 3-D data in real-time.

slide1The truth is that the technology seen in the movie isn’t all that far away from reality. In Morocco, I used a vehicle mounted laser scanner called a Dynascan to drive around stockpiles of phosphate in order to carry out volume calculations.

The Dynascan LiDAR system contains an integrated Inertial Navigation System (INS), Real Time Kinetic Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and a high-speed, lightweight and portable laser scanner. Just like in the movie, we can see the data being collected in real-time.
But now there is the scan-copter –  a quad-copter drone strong enough to lift the 10kg scanner plus the INS and GNSS equipment. A total station and prism are used for tracking the unit in a continuous topo mode so that the scan data can be processed to an acceptable accuracy. If you didn’t follow that last sentence, never mind, what it means is that so long as you have a line of sight to the copter then you can use the data. Sadly this means that it can’t fly off on its own (out of sight) to collect data, so it’s not quite as cool as in the movie.

It’s early days for the technology, accuracy is in the 2-3cm range and a second version is being developed. Now if someone would just invent that hover-car that we all dream of when we are stuck in traffic jams….


Visit to see a video of the scanner in use…


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