Impact of LiDAR on the Material Handling Industry

August 1st, 2022

As more autonomous driving companies turn to LiDAR to help drive vehicles on roadways, the automatic guided vehicle (AGV) and autonomous mobile robot (AMR) industry have benefited from implementation of this technology. The result is a greater drive toward automation.

Real-time detection of obstacles and 3D mapping of surroundings provides a huge advantage in automated environments where safety, efficiency, and productivity are a vast concern. LiDAR has made a major impact in the material handling industry by increasing productivity, optimizing processes, and reducing workplace accidents. As more cost-effective LiDAR options become available, this technology’s influence continues to grow in the world of automation.

What is LiDAR?

First, let’s discuss LiDAR’s function to better understand its importance. There are four distinct parts to a LiDAR sensor that work together to create a 3D pixelated view of the environment known as a point cloud. These four parts include: a laser, scanner, specialized GPS receiver, and an IMU (inertial measurement unit).

Similar in how sonar and radar function, LiDAR emits laser light from a source known as a transmitter or emitter. The laser light is sent out in pulses which are then reflected from objects in the environment and detected by a sensor, referred to as the system receiver.

The time it takes for each pulse to return to the sensor is known as the TOF (time-of-flight). It is this TOF data that allows for the calculation of distance traveled between the sensor and the object detected. Continued pulses in rapid succession allow for the accumulation of vast amounts of data, resulting in an accurately detailed picture of the environment. The TOF data combined with other data generated, collected, and contained by the GPS and IMU allow for the creation of an accurate and reliable 3D map of the scanned environment.

Benefits of LiDAR in the Material Handling Industry

  • LiDAR’s 2D and 3D scanning features allow vehicles to ‘see’ around corners, a unique trait its human counterpart does not possess. Collision avoidance is key in contributing to workplace safety, in turn optimizing operational productivity and efficiency. These are important issues that must be addressed in the material handling industry.
  • LiDAR allows for the real-time detection of obstacles in the path. The autonomous vehicle is then able to steer clear of the obstruction due to LiDAR mapping and continue on its way.
  • The natural feature navigation aspect of LiDAR eliminates the need for external targets such as RFID, reflectors, magnetic tape, or markers in order to navigate. This contributes to ease of integration, decreased installation time, and the elimination of costly additions.
  • LiDAR is highly scalable, adaptable, and is much more reliable than standard camera-based systems.
  • LiDAR technology is more affordable today than ever before.
  • Fast data collection with exceptionally high accuracy leads to increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Ease of integration with other technology allowing for quicker, easier, and more accurate data collection.
  • Minimization of human dependence.

LiDAR vs. Standard Camera Systems

LiDAR has proven to be more reliable than standard camera-based solutions simply because it is not negatively affected by sudden vibrations, low light environments, natural light, or the accumulation of dust. LiDAR is capable of performing more reliably in a large array of lighting and weather conditions.

LiDAR Limitations

In environments that contain reflective surfaces, LiDAR can experience difficulty in data collection. These situations can be remedied with the implementation of other sources such as radar that are more suitable. The ease of LiDAR’s integration with other data collection technologies makes it easy to resolve issues as they arise.

As companies turn toward automation, LiDAR sensor systems are proving to be a must-have in the field of material handling. A shining star that is demonstrating incredible potential in terms of safety, efficiency, and productivity, LiDAR is rising to the top of the class in sensor technology.


NIH – Distance and Velocity Measurement of Coherent Lidar Based on Chirp Pulse Compression

Machine Design – How Sensors Are Moving Materials Handling Towards Safe Automation

Mosaic – What is LiDAR, how does it work, and what is it used for?

GISGeography – A Complete Guide to LiDAR: Light Detection and Ranging


Blog article by Stacey Foxworthy (August 2022)