From The Editor: Lidar in the Popular Press

A 366Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

I waxed lyrical in my last editorial on "LiDAR as hero" in the discovery of a "lost city" in Honduras. There have been more. The popular press, for example, reported the use of LiDAR in the discovery of unexpectedly large areas occupied by early civilizations. "Researchers using a high-tech aerial mapping technique have found tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defence works and pyramids in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region, suggesting that millions more people lived there than previously thought," reported The Guardian on 3 February 2018. Thomas Garrison, assistant professor of anthropology at Ithaca College in New York, commented on his search for an ancient road, "I found it, but if I had not had the Lidar and known that that’s what it was, I would have walked right over it, because of how dense the jungle is." In the BBC’s reporting of the same story,, Garrison was echoed by Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University, "I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology." Houston told the BBC that, after decades of work in the archaeological field, he found the magnitude of the recent survey "breathtaking" He . added, "I know it sounds hyperbolic but when I saw the [Lidar] imagery, it did bring tears to my eyes."

Only 13 days later, The Guardian,, continued, "… a high-tech laser mapping technique … is rewriting the textbooks at an unprecedented rate. Now, researchers have used the technique to reveal the full extent of an ancient city in western Mexico, about a half an hour’s drive from Morelia, built by rivals to the Aztecs." LiDAR is now the established technology for this sort of archaeological discovery, where dense vegetation inhibits the value of both imagery and fieldwork. We understand this, but isn’t it satisfying to see the exposure in the popular press? I don’t remember this happening with the subtense bar…

In this issue also appears the report of my visit to Cepton Technologies in San Jos, California, to probe what makes a young company stuffed with brilliant Silicon Valley people tick. Cepton entered my world at the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas last October, where the company launched its SORA 200 sensor for use on airborne UAVs. This represents a step into a new market for the company, which was founded with the intention of creating innovative products for the automotive market, which is massive compared to the ALS, TLS and MMS segments that most readers of LIDAR Magazine know well. It involves the use of sensors not only as essential components of autonomous vehicles but also in systems that assist drivers of the current generation of vehicles. Autonomous vehicles, of course, are in the news every day and I was pleased to receive a succinct overview of the technology, "Reinventing wheels: special report–autonomous vehicles" published as part of the 3 March , 2018 issue of The Economist. This is a compelling read with LiDAR making an appearance as early as page 3.

A deeper discussion of an application of LiDAR appears in a recent paper by Nikolaus Schmitt of Airbus, "Onboard lidar detects turbulence, volcanic ash near and far" Photonics Spectra, 52(2): , 36-42, February 2018. This strikes a note for those of us who fly a lot but admit nervousness when anything but "light chop" is encountered. Schmitt provides an enthralling summary of LiDAR’s roles on large aircraft.

Ever since taking on the role of managing editor, I have been curious that the title of our magazine spells "LIDAR" in all caps. Meanwhile, the front page of the program of the conference with which I began this editorial reads "International LiDAR Mapping Forum" Schmitt uses . "lidar" There are "Lidar" people too. What . are we to make of this? The dilemma hit my desk big time when I began work on an upcoming article about ASPRS standards with Jason Stoker of USGS. Jason was adamant that we should use "lidar" or publish a disclaimer if another spelling was preferred, since "lidar" is required by the USGS style guide. Jason undergirded his belief by referring me to an article in these pages by himself and the librarian at USGS EROS, Carol Deering, "Let’s Agree on the Casing of Lidar" LIDAR Magazine, 4(6): 48-51, , September 2014. In addition to the four spellings I gave above, they also covered five others–"LiDar’ "LiDaR" "liDAR" , , , "LIDaR" and "LIdar"–and searched the literature to quantify the relative frequencies of usage ("lidar" romped home on this criterion). They made a convincing argument for "lidar" with two, very persuasive strands: firstly, "lidar" like , "radar" "sonar, "loran" and others, started , as an acronym, then gravitated to lower case and, indeed, became a common noun as the years passed; secondly, there is historical evidence that very early writers on the subject, in the 1950s, went for lower case. I asked David Stolarz, chair of the ASPRS Standards Committee, to have a look at the issue and, if possible, make a recommendation. He agreed to take up the matter, commenting, "Perhaps we are still in the maximum flexibility stage of usage. I don’t recall seeing when `RADAR’ switched to `radar’ but we are , in an era in which there is de-centralized command and design of the language."

I wrote also to Dr. Stuart Granshaw, editor of The Photogrammetric Record, expecting that this renowned, rather British journal would take a strong view. I was not disappointed! Stuart replied:

"The Photogrammetric Record has a very strong stand on `LIDAR’ , `LiDAR’ `Lidar’ `lidar’ We are very very firmly in the `lidar’ camp. The word is obviously derived from an acronym for `light detection and ranging’ In LiDAR, `Li’ comes from . Light, `D’ from Detection, `A’ from `And’ and `R" from `Ranging’ Thus . LiDAR is at least logical, whereas LIDAR (caps `I’) is not (what would the `I’ stand for?). `Lidar’ (with just a caps `L’) would make it a proper noun, as if there was only one lidar, which is a nonsense. However, the Record follows the policy that `lidar’ is a noun in its own right (thus its derivation from an acronym is now secondary). I have just looked it up in my Shorter Oxford Dictionary and it is, indeed, there as `lidar’ (not any of your other alternatives). This is exactly the same as the words (nouns) `radar’ and `laser’ which, although also originally acronyms, are now accepted as nouns in their own right (again my Shorter Oxford Dictionary has both in this form). If you write RaDAR (from radio detection and ranging) or LASER (from light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) then also write LiDAR. But if, like the Record (and the Shorter Oxford Dictionary), you write `radar’ and `laser’ then , `lidar’ is the only logical version."

This conundrum will cause insomnia only to pedants such as myself, but it would be reassuring to move forward in a consistent way. There is scope for creativity too. If the all-lower-case camp prevails, as seems likely, what would become of us: lidar MAGAZINE, lidar Magazine, lidarMAGAZINE, lidarMagazine, or something entirely different? If you have a view on this, please write in–I’ll be listening! This vexing question arose during my exchange with Stuart Granshaw. I asked him whether, if we go for "lidar" it should , be "Lidar" at the beginning of a sentence and the answer was, "Yes, Initial capital at the start of a sentence of course, but I would also use it in your magazine name. We are The Photogrammetric Record. The Sunday Times and Daily Mirror are newspapers, so surely you should use Lidar Magazine." Should we?

LIDAR, LiDAR, Lidar or lidar, therefore, is hale and hearty. Soon we will enjoy the SPAR 3D Expo & Conference in Anaheim, California–see you there!

A. Stewart Walker, Managing Editor

A 366Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE