LIDAR and RADAR in video surveillance

Colin Bodbyl
Thursday November 30, 2017
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Video surveillance has become a critical component of any security system. However, the best security systems do not rely on any single product to provide a complete solution. Video surveillance is often most effective when paired with other devices or technology to expand a systems capability beyond the video. Motion detectors and alarm contacts are all popular devices to integrate into video surveillance systems but new technology is constantly emerging.

LIDAR is just beginning to make its way into the commercial security space. These devices have been around for many years but were cost prohibitive for most commercial integrations. In recent years though, both LIDAR and its older counterpart RADAR have come down significantly in cost.

As LIDAR expands into the security space, it is important to understand the difference between LIDAR and RADAR, as well as where they are best used. Both technologies operate by transmitting a signal, waiting for it to reflect off an object, and then calculating the distance of that object based on the time between the signal being transmitted and when it returned. Both systems repeat these scans thousands of times each second to determine the location and movements of individual objects. The difference that gives each technology its name is that LIDAR uses lasers (or light) as its signal while RADAR uses radio waves.

RADAR is the oldest of the two technologies. Invented in the 1940s, it is most commonly known as the tool police use to catch drivers who are speeding. In the security industry, RADAR has been used in microwave detectors for a long time, but many integrators may not realize that. RADAR is a powerful technology widely used by the military and other high security facilities. Its greatest benefits are the ability to detect objects at extreme distances while resisting interference from environmental conditions like fog, snow and rain. There are many different types of RADAR and LIDAR devices, but in general, LIDAR is known to be more precise.

Self-driving cars, drones and other autonomous vehicles are critically dependant on RADAR and LIDAR to function. The adaptive cruise control on modern cars uses RADAR to gauge the distance on the vehicle in front of you. Autonomous cars use LIDAR to collect real-time information about nearby objects. It is the dependence on this technology that has helped drive innovation and reduce costs in recent years, which in turn has made it more affordable for the price sensitive security industry.

While LIDAR is the most precise of the two technologies, it is also the most likely to face interference from environmental factors. Fog, snow, rain and dust can all interfere with the performance of LIDAR which can make it difficult to use in harsh conditions. RADAR, on the other hand, is less sensitive to these types of weather conditions.

The future of both products in the security space is bright. LIDAR is able to distinguish humans, vehicles, and hundreds of other object at a far higher accuracy level than video analytics. LIDAR can even generate 3D images of an environment which are accurate down to less than a centimetre. RADAR, on the other hand, can operate in almost any weather conditions at extremely long ranges, though its short-range capabilities can also be impressive where it can detect breathing or even a heartbeat.

RADAR and LIDAR are both becoming increasingly affordable and new designs are making them easier than ever to integrate into existing systems. While video technology continues to evolve with better analytics and smarter processing, we cannot lose sight of complimentary products. Video has become a key component of any security solution but it has its limitations. By looking outside of video to other intelligent technologies like RADAR and LIDAR, integrators have an opportunity to provide customers with leading edge technology and truly differentiate their security solution.  


Colin Bodbyl is the chief technology officer for UCIT Online.
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