What is a LIDAR Scanner and How Does It Help Augmented Reality?

what is lidar? ar lidar guide
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If you are a virtual and augmented reality fan, you’ve probably heard a lot of fuss over the new LIDAR scanner included with the Apple iPad Pro. Let this be your guide to LIDAR, how it can improve augmented reality, and what it means for new AR technology and products in the future!

What is LIDAR?

LIDAR stands for LIght Detection And Ranging. It’s a laser light that can measure the distance of objects by calculating how long it takes for a laser light to bounce off a target and come back.

Modern LIDAR solutions can send out thousands of lights per second and use the data to map out where you are in space relative to other objects.

It was developed in the early 60s and is used today in a number of applications including satellite tracking and autonomous vehicles.

For a really good understanding of LIDAR, check out this demo below. It uses the new 4th generation iPAD LIDAR sensor to map out a surrounding room.

iPad Pro LiDAR meshing using ARKit

What’s so special about the iPad LIDAR Scanner?

Apple made news in March 2020 with the announcement that their new 11 and 12.9 inch iPad Pro models come with an LIDAR scanner included with its cameras. The LIDAR scanner in the iPad Pro can map surrounding objects up to five meters away.

From an augmented reality approach, the iPad LIDAR scanner can create a detailed and complete digital mapping of your surroundings. AR games and apps can use this data to place digital objectives in view more accurately.

Because of how thorough LIDAR can be in scanning a whole area, this also means that AR apps will be able to track movement and motion capture better and faster than ever before.

iPad LIDAR Examples

If you want to see an example of the kind of things made possible by the new LIDAR sensor in the 4th generation iPad, check out the video below!

New Capabilities Made Possible By the LiDAR Scanner on the 2020 iPad Pro

LIDAR Applications

With the cost of LIDAR technology becoming cheaper and smaller than ever before, it is opening up a number of useful applications for the technology. Here are some examples of where LIDAR can be useful:

Augmented Reality

augmented reality map

This is our favorite use of the technology (AR). By accurately being able to map out our surroundings, AR games and apps will become more accurate than ever before.

Apple showcased a new game of Hot Lava that utilizes the new LIDAR scanner in the iPad. It maps out your room and knows where to place hot lava around you on the floor to avoid. The game is automatically customized for each player’s individual house.

Autonomous Vehicles

If we expect vehicles to drive themselves, we must be able to trust that they have full spatial awareness. LIDAR can help a vehicle know where nearby objects are relative to them. Vehicles will be able to make decisions such as accelerating or breaking based on this data.

Climate Change

LIDAR satellites in the sky can scan the earth’s topography to an accuracy of 12 inches of less. This means that we can see exactly how landscapes such as forests or glaciers change over time.

Crime Scenes

Police can use LIDAR cameras to quickly map out the surroundings of a crime scene or traffic accident. This can preserve critical evidence for later which is crucial.

Virtual Tours

Back in the world of virtual reality, LIDAR can create 360 degree videos and tours of any building in the world. It can quickly allow you to walk virtually inside of buildings and preserve them in time.

Augmented Reality Glasses

What is a LIDAR Scanner and How Does It Help Augmented Reality?

It is rumored that Apple is working on its own pair of augmented reality glasses using LIDAR technology. The glasses would be wearable all day long and would use AR to provide data and analytics in real time, similar to a live heads up display (HUD).

The LIDAR sensor in the glasses will be key in mapping out your current location and providing analytics about your surroundings.

Augmented Reality Games & Apps That Use LIDAR

Here are some games and apps that do a great job utilizing the new LIDAR camera in Apple devices.

Hot Lava

hot lava ar lidar

As we mentioned above, Hot Lava is a game where you have to jump on objects to avoid hot lava. The LIDAR camera and augmented reality takes a scan of your room and places hot lava and digital objects virtually in your house.

Hot Lava’s new AR mode will be available this summer.

Ikea Place

What is a LIDAR Scanner and How Does It Help Augmented Reality?

The Ikea Place app already lets you virtually see how furniture looks in your room with augmented reality. A new update to utilize the LIDAR scanner will allow the app to make recommendations on furniture based on style, size, and color to match what else is in your room.

Complete Anatomy

What is a LIDAR Scanner and How Does It Help Augmented Reality?

The Complete Anatomy app is used by students and teachers around the world to teach anatomy. You can view muscular, skeletal, and arterial information on a skeleton and help memorize and understand each function.

The LIDAR scanner pairs with the Complete Anatomy app to accurately measure body parts and range of motion and to assist with teachings in the app.

What is your favorite application of LIDAR? Do you know any other augmented reality apps that use the technology really well? Comment below and let us know!


  • Ryan William

    With over 7 years of hands-on experience in the dynamic world of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), Ryan is a recognized authority in the field. His collaborations with industry giants like Meta and HTC underscore his expertise in shaping the AR/VR landscape. Ryan has written over 2,000 blog posts, offering in-depth insights, reviews, and analyses of the latest mixed reality technology. From groundbreaking games to cutting-edge hardware, Ryan's extensive knowledge ensures readers are always at the forefront of AR/VR/MR, as well as Steam Deck, news.

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