Unmanned Scanning

Gottfried Mandlburger et al.: Concept and Performance Evaluation of a Novel UAV-Borne Topo-Bathymetric LiDAR Sensor 19.03.2020

We present the sensor concept and first performance and accuracy assessment results of a novel lightweight topo-bathymetric laser scanner designed for integration on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), light aircraft, and helicopters. The instrument is particularly well suited for capturing river bathymetry in high spatial resolution as a consequence of (i) the low nominal flying altitude of 50–150 m above ground level resulting in a laser footprint diameter on the ground of typically 10–30 cm and (ii) the high pulse repetition rate of up to 200 kHz yielding a point density on the ground of approximately 20–50 points/m2. The instrument features online waveform processing and additionally stores the full waveform within the entire range gate for waveform analysis in post-processing. The sensor was tested in a real-world environment by acquiring data from two freshwater ponds and a 500 m section of the pre-Alpine Pielach River (Lower Austria). The captured underwater points featured a maximum penetration of two times the Secchi depth. On dry land, the 3D point clouds exhibited (i) a measurement noise in the range of 1–3 mm; (ii) a fitting precision of redundantly captured flight strips of 1 cm; and (iii) an absolute accuracy of 2–3 cm compared to terrestrially surveyed checkerboard targets. A comparison of the refraction corrected LiDAR point cloud with independent underwater checkpoints exhibited a maximum deviation of 7.8 cm and revealed a systematic depth-dependent error when using a refraction coefficient of n = 1.36 for time-of-flight correction. The bias is attributed to multi-path effects in the turbid water column (Secchi depth: 1.1 m) caused by forward scattering of the laser signal at suspended particles. Due to the high spatial resolution, good depth performance, and accuracy, the sensor shows a high potential for applications in hydrology, fluvial morphology, and hydraulic engineering, including flood simulation, sediment transport modeling, and habitat mapping.

The full article was published in the Remote Sensing Journal (publishing house: MDPI) and can be found here.