What is LiDAR Scanner and How to Make the Most of It

With the release of the 2020 iPad Pro, Apple introduced the highly intriguing LiDAR Scanner. But what exactly is LiDAR, and how does it work?  In this post, let’s take a deep dive into this exciting technology. We’ll explore how LiDAR links to augmented reality and what uses or benefits it can have. We’ll also have a look at apps that support the feature and analyze what it could mean for future devices. Let’s dig in.

What is a LiDAR Scanner?

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging. The ToF, aka Time of Flight scanner, uses light to determine the distance between two objects.

It measures the time taken by a light source to reach an object and reflect back. This is not a new technology per se, NASA is using it for space missions. Meteorologists are using LiDAR for better weather predictions.

Remarkably, Apple has managed to fix it into the iPad Pro. And as per sources, 2020 iPhone 12 will probably have LiDAR Scanner as well.

How Does LiDAR Scanning Work with iPad Pro? 

The smartly engineered scanner sends multiple pulses of invisible green spectrum lasers and measures their reflection time.

It works at a photon level and operates at nanosecond speeds, thousands of times per minute.

When employed, it can measure the distance between the camera bump and other objects up to five meters away, both indoors and outside.

With this info, the scanner can sense and make a picture of everything the light touches. It enables the scanner a perception of depth that is quite like our human eyes.

Thanks to which the LiDAR scanner opens up tremendous possibilities for augmented reality and beyond.

Is It Similar to the TrueDepth Sensor?

In a way, LiDAR works quite similar to the front-facing TrueDepth sensor sported by the iPhone X and above and iPad.

Through, instead of just being optimized for your face, LiDAR Scanner scans a depth-accurate depiction of their surroundings.

How Can It Help You? 

Whether you are a fan of iOS AR apps or not, you cannot deny that it is an exciting technology. It is something that has the potential to shape our future.

The combination of the new LiDAR Scanner, depth-sensing system, and ARKit 3.5 makes AR experiences on the 2020 iPad Pro models more realistic.

  • Scene Geometry API – You can capture a 3D topological map of your space. Thanks to object occlusion, it can identify floors, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, and seats
  • Instant AR – Its quick assessment of the environment, enables instant placement or AR objects in the real world without scanning. Imagine the speed and precision of AR Games like Pokemon Go
  • People Occlusion – As it realistically and seamlessly passes behind and in front of people, you can enable green screen-style effects in almost any environment
  • Motion Capture – Capturing a person’s body position and movement in real-time becomes more accurate
  • Better 3D object detection – The scanner can recognize 3D objects more accurately, even in complex environments

Now, isn’t this impressive. Just imagine what the app and game developers could build with this raw material.

Well, whatever it may be, it is undoubtedly going to make our work/life simpler and entertaining. Take these apps, for instance:

Best iPad Pro Apps to Test LiDAR Scanner

#1. Measure

Measure AR iPad App Screenshot

Until now, you could use this app to measure real-world objects.

The 2020 iPad Pro models Measure app incorporates new horizontal and vertical guidelines. This makes measuring large objects, both comfortable and accurate.

You can also save measurements from a single session and share it when needed. What’s more, you can instantly measure a person’s height.

Price: Free

#2. IKEA Place

IKEA Place AR iPad App Screenshot

Will that sofa matches the room’s color story, or will that even fit that space? Answer all such questions from one simple app and AR technology.

Firstly, the app will use LiDAR to paint a life-like picture of your space. Then you can virtually place true-to-scale 3D models in the area.

Move furniture around and find its perfect placement, even before you decide to buy.

Price: Free

#3. Shapr 3D CAD modeling

Shapr 3D CAD modeling AR iPad App Screenshot

Shapr3D combines the precision and power of a desktop CAD with the flexibility of the iPad and Apple Pencil.

It sports unique collaborative and learning tools beneficial for engineers, industrial designers, architects, and creators.

And quite like a great Sci-Fi movie, you can bring your 3D object to life with AR.

Price: Free (Pro Subscription – $31.99)

#4. Hot Lava

Hot Lava iPad App Screenshot

Can our list be really complete without a fun AR game? Not really! Turn your surroundings into a sea of hot molten lava.

You have to run, jump, climb, and surf in the first person to survive and save the world. There’s a sea of obstacles as well, from toxic waste to bottomless pit.

Price: Free with Apple Arcade Subscription

#5. Complete Anatomy Platform 2020

Complete Anatomy Platform 2020 AR iPad App Screenshot

A 3D anatomy platform with over 17,000 interactive and accurate structures, including a life-like dissectible human heart in full 3D.

The AR mode incorporates virtual dissection, 3D pen, fracture, pain & growth simulation. And now, the LiDAR update will allow users to take measures with a real human being.

Such a wholesome experience helps in better understanding and visualization. And since it offers a FREE 3-day trial, you can easily experience LiDAR’s magic.

Price: Free (In-app Purchases start from $0.99)

#6. Reality Composer 

Reality Composer AR iPad App Screenshot

Apple’s own app that helps users develop a prototype and produce AR experiences. You can customize virtual objects, add animations, add spatial audio, or build your scene.

The LiDAR Scanner opens up the path for object occlusion, i.e., virtual objects are occluded by real objects to fit into their surroundings realistically

Moreover, placement for AR scenes and virtual purposes is much much quicker.

Price: Free

As of now, these apps will allow you to learn and explore the potential of the LiDAR scanner. We will be updating the list as and when new or old apps offer LiDAR support. So, keep an eye out for this space for sure.

What Does It Mean for iPhone 12?

Until now, technology such as LiDAR wasn’t that readily available for everyday users. With the inclusion in iPad Pro and probably iPhone 12, the equation will inevitably change.

Depth sensing technology has already given us amazing features like Animojis, Selfie Portrait mode, and Portrait Lighting AR effects.

Imagine the possibilities and paths that an iPhone 12 with LiDAR Scanner can entail. From having several useful and real-world features to amazing entertainment perks.

Agreed, that the 2020 iPhone LiDAR Scanner will have limitations as it is still a nascent technology. But it does seem like a solid start for making augmented reality a ‘reality.’

That’s all for now!

We are surely fanboying over LiDAR and its use cases. What about you? How do you think it can change the world we know? What is that one thing or app you are most excited about? Do let us know your views and reviews in the comment section below.

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A self-professed iGeek who loves to explore all things Apple. I thoroughly enjoy discovering new hacks, troubleshooting issues, and finding and reviewing the best products and apps currently available. My expertise also includes curating opinionated and honest editorials. If not this, you might find me surfing the web or listening to audiobooks.