Synopsis: In the first installment of our new webinar series since AppGeo’s acquisition by Sanborn Mapping Company, our experts discuss the rapidly changing field of mapping in urban environments. As some of the most complex but important areas to understand, urban environments have long been the focus of government and commercial mapping efforts. With the adoption of LiDAR and remote sensing technology, more data than ever before can be captured in these areas. But what do these technologies do differently and how can users get the most out of them?

AppGeo and Sanborn are using our expertise in GIS to analyze and improve how we map and analyze the world. This webinar (recorded on November 3rd, 2022) brings together Jared Martin, VP of Operations from Sanborn Map Company, Brian Coolidge, Senior Project Manager from AppGeo, and Aaron Doucett, Sales Engineer and GIS analyst from AppGeo to discuss how mapping data in urban environments can be unlocked through remote sensing.

Sanborn + AppGeo LiDAR Projects

Martin: “LiDAR, what is it? It stands for Light Detection And Ranging, for those who are unfamiliar… it does some form of remote sensing technology and can identify objects through the technology itself. It is an active sensor that will use light, in the form of a pulsed laser to emit laser beams and then measure the earth that it flies over… It is basically a highly advanced range finder that is emitting at this time, millions of pulses a second to measure everything from trees, buildings, ground, and even now getting into water and below water… You can combine the technology with your GPS, GNSS, and IMU sensors… that combines into a 3-dimensional point cloud, that allows us to basically, at a high density, walk through the earth in a digital form…”

LiDAR, standing for Light Detection And Ranging, represents the future of mapping. Rather than simply capturing imagery that resembles what one might see with the naked eye, LiDAR can penetrate through foliage, darkness, and other sight blockers. This opens up almost limitless use cases that are impossible with traditional imagery technology. By providing different information and more of it, LiDAR allows for far more detailed data and analysis than has been ever before. 

LiDAR is a relatively recent innovation and its full potential has not yet been unlocked. Expect LiDAR to become more common and powerful, especially as it becomes more available on the consumer market. With greater availability and power, capturing LiDAR data requires less investment than traditional methods such as aerial imagery. 

Case Study: Cincinnati, Ohio Tree Canopy Assessment

Coolidge: “Cinninati, like many other cities across the US, is interested in what benefit their tree canopy brings to them… Ultimately, Cincinnati was really looking to start with collecting their own data… They had looked to get LiDAR collection, as well as imagery collection to support this. Traditionally, with these urban tree canopy assessments a lot of the data is extracted from imagery, but as LiDAR continues to advance it becomes a really unique and great tool to help support these projects… We knew that combining the LiDAR with the AIP (Agriculture Imagery Program) data would really give us a good urban tree canopy assessment for the city. One of the things we wanted to do with that, other than collect new land cover classification, was also evaluate the gain, loss, and no change in canopy throughout a 10 year period of 2011-2020.” 

When the city of Cincinnati, Ohio wanted to study their urban tree canopy, they turned to AppGeo. Fresh off the success of a similar urban mapping project in New York City, AppGeo was able to help! By using both traditional imagery alongside LiDAR, they were able to offer the most complete picture of Cincinnati’s tree canopy possible. Traditional imagery can tell you a lot about tree cover, but LiDAR presents a hidden wealth of data about the specific sizes and shapes of individual trees, as well as nearby buildings. With this new data, AppGeo was able to track how the canopy changed over time, as well as identify potential areas for additional tree plantings. As a result, the city could compare the tree canopy’s effect on air quality, erosion, and heat across Cincinnati. 

Use Cases for LiDAR and the Future of Mapping

Martin: “The industry is moving towards a situation where your large format cameras, and your large format airborne LiDAR systems are much more in-sync from a footprint perspective of collection. That allows you to combine these incredibly high resolution, high fidelity, high density data sets to simultaneously collect at the same time, allowing for more information to come back in one pass or from one aircraft… Even with where the technology is going today, we know where we are going to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, the technology is going to be so much further along… Hybrid approach is where we are going in the future, how you can use other forms of data… and combining it with LiDAR and the traditional imagery, you’re able to get so much more into one package if you need it, than you would 5 or 10 years ago. The future’s looking bright.”

LiDAR can provide the benefits of traditional imagery approaches, as well as opening up new avenues for data collection and analysis. While imagery’s conventional uses, such mapping canopies, are being enhanced by the use of LiDAR, new use cases are still being found. Ranging from Digital Surface Models, to Change Detection, to Contour Mapping, LiDAR has expanded the horizons of GIS.

These new data opportunities will only become more valuable over time as LiDAR increases in power and accuracy. Already, the industry is far more advanced than it was at the introduction of LiDAR only 25 years ago, ensuring even more uses are yet to be discovered. These advancements are why right now is one of the most exciting times in the GIS field and why you should connect with the experts at Sanborn and AppGeo to see how you can get the most out of this data explosion!