What is LiDAR Scanner, and How Does It Work?

What is LiDAR Scanner and How To Make The Most Of It

It was with the release of the 2020 iPad Pro that Apple introduced the highly intriguing LiDAR Scanner. And now, it has become an essential element of iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. But what exactly is LiDAR, and how does it work? Let’s take a deep dive into this exciting technology, how it links to augmented reality, and what uses or benefits LiDAR can have.

What is 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. This is not a new technology per se; NASA is using it for space missions. And meteorologists are using LiDAR for better weather predictions.

Recently, this technology is being employed to build 3D maps of the surrounding. Wherein it physically sweeps the area and calculates distances quite like a radar dish.

Remarkably, Apple has managed to fix it into the iPhone 12 Pro series and iPad Pro.

How Does LiDAR Scanning Work on iPhone 12 and iPad Pro? 

Use LiDAR Scanner on iPhone 12

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.

As per Apple, it will help users in three ways:

  1. Photo and video effects,
  2. Environment/room scanner, and
  3. Precise placement of AR objects.

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.

The major difference is the amount of pulses. The TrueDepth sensor shoots out a single pulse of infra-red light to create 3D maps.

Whereas, LiDAR fires multiple laser pulses in different directions, covering an area with more precision and faster.

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 iPhone 12 Pro series, the equation is changing.

See how embracing the depth-sensing technology has already provided us with 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.

Will The LiDAR Scanner Improve Photography?

Apple’s secret to amazing photography is its advanced computational photography & machine learning. And LiDAR will add additional data into the mix.

It will map the environment and accordingly relay the information to the GPU. And since the sensor can work in the dark by shooting lasers, it could greatly improve autofocus.

According to the tech giant, iPhone 12 Pro phones boast 6x faster focus in low light for both photos & videos. This will enable amazing night portraits with a beautiful low-light bokeh effect.

LiDAR will definitely aid in better, sharper, and more contrasting images.

The Use Cases of LiDAR

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

Combining the new LiDAR Scanner, depth-sensing system, and ARKit 3.5 makes AR experiences more realistic on the 2020 iPad Pro & iPhone 12 Pro models.

  • 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 – The LiDAR Pulses seamlessly plots a person and its surrounding. Thanks to which you could 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, one thing is for sure, it is undoubtedly going to make our work & life more straightforward and entertaining. Take these apps, for instance:

Best iPhone and iPad Apps to Test LiDAR Scanner

1. Snapchat

snapchat iphone app screenshot

The multimedia messaging app already offers some best-in-class AR photo filters. And it promises to introduce a lidar-powered lens specifically developed for the iPhone 12 Pro models.

As peaked in Apple’s briefing about lidar, the special AR Lens will allow an advanced depth perception. With a better understanding of the physical space, Snapchat will have a more realistic placement of AR objects.

Price: Free

2. Measure

Measure AR iPad App Screenshot

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

3. IKEA Place

IKEA Place AR iPad App Screenshot

Will that sofa match your room’s color story, or will it 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

4. Shapr 3D CAD modeling

Shapr 3D CAD modeling AR iPad App Screenshot

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

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)

5. 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

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

Note: Not all AR-friendly apps offer support for the LiDAR Scanner yet. We expect the updates to arrive soon, keep an eye out for this space for an updated list.

Video: What is LiDar Scanner on iPhone 12 Pro Series?


That’s all for now!

We are surely fanboying over LiDAR and its use cases. 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.’ What is your take? 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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