In April of 2013, Sasha Reed of Building Design + Construction magazine wrote an article on implementing futuristic AEC technologies, like BIM, into general work plans. What stood out specifically was her analysis of how general adoption is preceded by public entities: "When a city or municipality starts talking about standardizing on 'future technologies,' critical mass isn't far behind." When public entities recognize new technologies, it's almost always becoming an industry staple.

Such is the current situation with mapping through light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology. It's widely accepted as the geospatial and mapping tool for the civil engineers and flood risk managers, but there's a case to be made for using LiDAR in more than two dozen seemingly unrelated industries. In fact, a nationwide LiDAR map would provide enough data to save as much as $13-billion annually.


Why Do We Need It and What Would We Do With It?

The National Research Council found in 2007 that existing elevation data are inadequate to support FEMA's needs. Similarly, in 2009 the council found topographic data to be the most important factor in determining water surface elevation, base flood elevation, and the extent of flooding - thus the accuracy of flood maps themselves. The council also found that "FEMA should increase collaboration… to acquire high-resolution, high-accuracy topographic data throughout the nation." LiDAR, with a two-foot contour accuracy on most terrain and a one-foot accuracy on flat plains, is the solution.

Now, imagine if the LiDAR map truly encompassed the entire nation. Trillions upon trillions of data points would be available for more than just floodplain analysis, but also to the agriculture, land navigation, geological, and other industries. In fact, a nationwide LiDAR map could provide a 5:1 ROI for the 27 business uses laid out in the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment - a total savings of up to $13 billion annually.


While this graphic outlines the top ten, there are three, in particular, that through adoption could save a collective $10-billion. They are: geologic resource assessments with as much as $1-billion in annual savings, agriculture and precision farming with as much as $2-billion in annual savings, and land navigation and safety with as much as $7-billion in annual savings. In fact, TomTom and other automotive navigation systems have estimated a four-to-12 percent savings in fuel efficiency with the help of more precise maps. To put that into perspective, we as a nation could save a collective $6-billion annually if realizing only a one percent fuel savings from transmission control technology and LiDAR data of changing gradients and curves.

While the estimates presented above are indeed large, they are by no means considered outrageous. By similar measurements, professionals in the geospatial and mapping fields have found conservative savings estimates of over $1-billion annually. So be it as little as $1-billion or as much as $13-billion annually, a nationwide LiDAR map would prove extremely beneficial to a number of other industries - something that decision makers in every industry should consider.