A train arriving at a station, surrounded by people. LiDAR's impact on the railway industry.

The Transformative Power of LiDAR on the railway industry

Conventional sensors like cameras and radars struggle to meet the complex demands of the rail industry due to their numerous limitations and potential operational challenges.

With a 2.9% annual growth on average between 2018 and 2023, the market size of the US Rail Transportation industry reached $110.1bn in 2023.

Safety, efficiency and performance are some of the key factors to the rail sector’s continued growth, and their importance will only grow as rail freight movement continues to increase.

In the upcoming years, it will be imperative to implement computer vision based perception technology like LiDAR to help identify safety issues, minimize risk, improve operations, and make rail more competitive.

This is also true for the whole supply chain: to increase safety and efficiency, ports, local delivery services and trucking businesses have already started integrating LiDAR sensors into their infrastructures.

To gain maximum benefits in the rail business, it is crucial to comprehend how LiDAR technology works, and why you should look into it.

How does LiDAR works?

LiDAR is a technology that uses laser beams to measure distances with an unprecedented level of accuracy.

What is lidar? Lidar is light detection and ranging, it works by sending laser light pulses to an object and measuring the distance between the object and the sensor
Here's how it works : a LiDAR device sends out a laser beam, which bounces off an object and returns to the device. The time it takes for the laser to return to the device is measured, and this data is used to calculate the distance between the LiDAR sensor and the object.

By scanning the laser beam across an object - or environment - and measuring the distance at many different points, the LiDAR can create a detailed 3D map of any area and can track movement in this area.

You can learn more in this article:

Understanding the basics of 3D LiDAR Technology
Light Detection and Ranging, also known as LiDAR, is a technology for remote sensing that is used to measure distances in an environment.
An illuminated urban LiDAR scan exemplifying a 3D map created using Ouster LiDAR OS1.
Example of 3D map created with Ouster LiDAR OS1

Used with the right software, it allows you to gather actionable data with centimeter-level accuracy.

For a quick overview of the key software algorithms running on top of this LiDAR data, take a look at this other article:

Overview of Outsight algorithms
An overview of some of the most important real-time LiDAR algorithms provided by Outsight’s Software.

Why is LiDAR relevant to the Rail Industry?

The complicated requirements of the rail sector cannot be met by conventional sensors like cameras and radars, due to their many limitations and potential operational difficulties.

For instance, cameras are limited to 2D detection and unable to measure spatial information (distance, size, volume, velocity...). In addition, their detection abilities are limited in low-light situations, such as at night, tunnels, and changing weather but also in direct sunlight situations.

On the other hand, because of the wavelengths used in Radar these sensors, they have a low detection accuracy for stationary objects and a low classification precision by nature.

LiDAR technology fills the void left by cameras and radar while enhancing and extending the capabilities of currently used sensing techniques. 

LiDAR is an essential remote sensing modality to add to your infrastructures due to its long range capabilities, its capacity to give extremely accurate real time 3D data regarding an object volume and velocity regardless of the lighting and weather circumstances.

When compared to cameras and radars, LiDAR technology can identify and locate objects (when used with the right software) with centimeter level accuracy. It may be used to map out and navigate complicated settings, classify objects, and offer exact location, velocity, and trajectory information.

LiDAR is the most trustworthy perception sensor to record high-quality data over a wide field of view, and at distances of more than 500 meters in some cases.

Where to start?

Ultimately your LiDAR installation should fit your needs : depending on the size of the area you want to cover or the type and number of objects your want to track, some sensors are more suitable than others.

Outsight's 3D LiDAR based software is a hardware agnostic solution, allowing you to gather data from any LiDAR manufacturer such as Hesai, Robosense, Velodyne, Ouster, Livox or many others.

And what better way to choose from all of the manufacturers than our LiDAR installation simulator ?

Once you give our simulator your specs, not only will we recommend the type of sensor that fits your need, but the number you might need, as well as their most efficient position and orientation!

Take a look at this article for more information on this critical tool:

Introducing the multi-vendor 3D LiDAR Simulator
Outsight has developed a LiDAR simulator for any use case and application, from airports to mobile robotics, smart cities and industrial applications.

So you have a tailor-made LiDAR installation that allows you to gather all the relevant data you need.

Conclusion

Conventional sensors such as cameras and radars struggle to meet the complex demands of the rail industry due to their numerous limitations and potential operational challenges.

Owing to its exceptional ability to gather spatial data at extended ranges with centimeter-level precision, regardless of lighting conditions, 3D LiDAR—when combined with appropriate software—will significantly enhance the safety and intelligence of the railway industry in the coming years.


Download our newest whitepaper or talk with a Product Specialist to get your LiDAR solution ready !

Whitepaper download for real-time applications using lidar technology

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