Application Examples

On this page you find a number of applications and application examples for Imaging Laser Altimetry and its products: digital landscapes and digital surface models. This list is by no means complete, as new applications are emerging continuously that become possible through the unique features of Imaging Laser Altimetry.

Applications in

Topographic mapping

Imaging Laser Altimetry is the ideal tool to obtain the third dimension for topographic mapping purposes. Its ability to 'see through trees' allows the accurate determination of ground elevation even in vegetated areas, reducing costs and time effort for mapping topography substanially. Thematic surface classification is facillitated by the wealth of information an imaging laser altimetry system supplies with a high degree of automation.

Establishing and updating topographic maps with accurate 3D information

Surface and landuse classification using surface roughness, object height and density, and shadow-free reflectance as criteria


Urban planning and development

Digital surface models of urban areas generated by Imaging Laser Altimetry contain the least amount of obscuration and shadowing of any currently available airborne 3D survey technique. They are used to generate accurate and up-to-date 3D city models for a number of applications:

Administration: updating of urban-area Geographic Information System (GIS) databases

Urban planning and development uses 3D urban topography models

  • to improve air quality by avoiding and eliminating "hot"-spots, areas of high concentrations of exhaust gases and reduced fresh-air supply (microclimate modeling),
  • for drainage layout: where does rain water concentrate, flow
  • for flood prevention: which areas are susceptible to inundation
  • for telecommunication: where should relay antennas for mobile cellular networks be placed for optimal coverage
  • for the layout of new development areas


Infrastructure construction, maintenance, and management

Layout and construction of infrastructure

  • accurate and up-to-date digital 3D terrain maps even in forested areas provide input to optimize the design- and construction process and logistics
  • environmental impact simulations using digital surface models help find the solution with least adverse effects on the landscape, vegetation, and hydrology
Highway, airport and railroad track inspection: airborne Imaging Laser Altimetry provides sufficient vertical resolution to detect major road surface, runway surface, and railroad track deformations on the fly. For paved surfaces even potholes deeper than 2" can be detected. Large obstructions like fallen trees after storms are of course also detected.
High-voltage power line and pipeline maintenance: downed powerlines and deformations in pipelines, as well as obstructions in their right-ofway corridors ("offensive trees") can be detected and evaluated rapidly with airborne Imaging Laser Altimeters. This allows maintenance crews to react fast and may avoid disastrous escalations.
Waterway maintenance: the ground profile of waterways may be monitored up to depths of more than 40 m / 120 ft, depending on the clearness of the water, with special airborne laser altimeters (bathymetry).
Asset management: airborne laser mapping is a highly efficient tool to generate and maintain accurate real estate and infrastructure inventories as it interfaces well with GIS databases


Ecology and environment

Research areas which use three dimensional surface data

  • Geology
  • Hydrology
  • Archeology - 3D mapping of large archeological sites

Monitoring of change in the (local) shape the Earth's surface must be done by 3D measurements. Fully automatic, highly repeatable measurement techniques are preferred for repetitive measurements as required in monitoring tasks. Imaging Laser Altimetry as a direct 3D mapping technique is the method of choice in many of the areas listed below, providing high vertical accuracy and requiring minimal interaction in processing and surface model generation.

  • Ice sheets and glaciers
  • Erosion
  • Volcanic activity
  • Tree height, canopy density, biomass
  • Beaches and dunes
  • Water depth in rivers and coastal zones
  • Tidal flats
  • Wetlands


  • Watershed and drainage system models rely on digital elevation data
  • Ecosystems - tree heights and vegetation density as derived from advanced Imaging Laser Altimeter data are important inputs to model processes in the biosphere


  • Visualization of the three-dimensional shape of the landscape to foster understanding of the interaction of terrain and ecosystem
  • Animations to illustrate geological, hydrological, and erosion processes, etc.
  • Computer animations (fly-thrus) of real landscapes to draw attention and add appeal in geography and ecology courses and educational multimedia productions


Agriculture and Forestry

Precision farming: airborne Imaging Laser Altimetry is an ideal tool to map and monitor plant growth (plant height) on extended sites. This will give you precise information on growth non-uniformities you may be able to compensate by adjusting watering and fertilizing. A precise three-dimensional terrain model enhances your ability to optimize water distribution and drainage processes.
Forest and park management: the monitoring of canopy density and tree heights is one of the major applications of advanced Imaging Laser Altimetry which cannot be achieved by any other automatic means as efficiently. The results may for example be used to detect vegetation disease, or to asses the impact of storms and to respond rapidly. As above, digital terrain models of the forest ground are useful to study drainage paths and for planning pathways. Laser altimetry is essentially the only technology able to produce terrain maps in forested areas.


Disaster prevention and response

Being a means of accurate three-dimensional imaging of the surface from the air Imaging Laser Altimetry is highly helpful to determine areas prone to natural hazards like floods, and to rapidly asses the damage to infrastructure after natural disasters like earthquakes, storms, landslides on a larger scale.

Flood prevention: digital surface models with high vertical resolution and accuracy are used in flood simulations to determine areas likely to be flooded, assisting the construction of effective countermeasures, or to calculate the potential risk of flooding of specific properties for insurance purposes.
Earthquake, landslide and storm damage response: Imaging laser altimetry is a direct 3D measurement method that does not require extensive post-processing to give results. Thus it is well suited to for rapid three-dimensional assessment of damage to infrastructure after earthquakes, landslides and storms, enabling a focussed response and concentration of repair forces to the most vital or severely damaged points.


Architecture and landscape design

Automatic integration of an architectural design with its surrounding, represented by a high-resolution 3D landscape model that includes existing vegetation, facilitates the design process and gives you an accurate impression of how your design interacts with its surrounding - more realistically than the generalized terrain models generally used today.
Virtual landscape 'sculpturing' can be done on the computer, based on a digital surface model that may even include existing vegetation, to optimize and accelerate the design process and give you realistic images of the results, before you even touch a shovel.
Applying plant growth and erosion simulation models to an accurate current terrain model can show you how your design may have evolved in 10 years.


Multimedia, advertising, and art

Realistic integration of computer-animated objects into real outdoor scenes can be achieved automatically by using a 3D model of the scene. Laser altimetry is a way to obtain a high-resolution 3D landscape model rapidly.
Camera fly-thrus of real-world scenes that are expensive to do or not possible in reality can be generated with modest effort in the computer with digital 3D models of the real landscape

Accurate surface models of real-world sites add excitement to computer video games:

  • topography of real golf courses in virtual golf - even below vegetation
  • fantasy games situated in real forests and well-known locations
  • flight simulations over recognizable landscapes

Eye-catching visual effects involving neighbourhood landscape enhance the appeal of advertising media to local customers.
Computer art / video performance using the 3D shape of natural hills, mountains, vegetation


We can help yo get the most benefit from these and other applications of Imaging Laser Altimetry and digital landscapes. See our services pagenext:


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