High Performance Airborne Laser Scanner for Routine Mapping of Terrain from UAS’s

Period of Performance: 08/01/2016 - 07/31/2018


Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Physical Sciences, Inc.
Firm POC
Principal Investigator


With the growth of oil and gas recovery from shale deposits, technologies for costeffective aerial mapping of topography around critical infrastructure, such as well pads, roads, and pipeline corridors, are of increasing importance for design, maintenance and safety. Remote monitoring is needed to identify, in realtime, topographical changes arising from erosion, stream sedimentation, or other surface activities that require mitigation. Digital terrain mapping from manned aircraft is routinely done using laser range finding, i.e. airborne laser scanners. The cost of acquiring and operating these systems is large, however, particularly with manned platforms. The overall objective of the combined Phase I/II program is to develop and demonstrate a compact airborne laser scanner for aerial mapping that preserves the performance of larger systems flown on manned aircraft but that is small enough to be deployed on large unmanned aerial systems. A large UAS has both the payload and endurance to enable more economical mapping than manned systems. The overall design approach is to utilize stateoftheart laser designs to create a highly compact laser transmitter and combine it with latest generation electronics for data acquisition and signal processing. A design was developed for a compact airborne laser scanner with the accuracy required for digital terrain mapping and that is deployable on a large unmanned aircraft system. A concept of operations for the aircraft and sensor was developed. System size, weight, and power estimates were developed. The engineering design for integrating the sensor with the demonstration aircraft will be completed. Sensor subassemblies will be fabricated and then integrated with system electronics. The airborne laser scanner will then be demonstrated on a small manned aircraft operating under the concept of operations developed for unmanned aircraft. The proposed unmanned aerial systembased laser scanner payload will enable digital terrain mapping and monitoring of high value infrastructure sites such as distribution pipeline corridors more economically than possible now. The basic sensor platform will be adaptable to other applications requiring accurate terrain mapping such as power transmission line vegetation encroachment, disaster response, bathymetry, and glacial melting in the Arctic. Key Words. Airborne laser scanner, aerial mapping, digital terrain map, unmanned aerial system. Technologies for costeffective geospatial mapping of topography around critical infrastructure, such as well pads and pipeline corridors, are of increasing importance for maintenance and safety. The compact sensor payload for unmanned aircraft this program will develop represents an economical mapping solution, particularly in areas distant from airports supporting manned aircraft.