LiDAR Source: Apple

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging, The concept behind LiDAR has been around since the 1960s. In short, the tech lets you scan and map your environment by firing out laser beams, then timing how quickly they return. A bit like RADAR(Radio Detection and Ranging System)  radiating energy into space and monitoring the echo or reflected signal from the objects.

Apple introduced the sensor in its high-end iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max flagships to enhance photography. This is not the first time the company is using LiDAR sensor in its products. In March 2020, the Cupertino-based company included the sensor in its new iPad. However, the primary purpose of the sensor in that device was to aid augmented reality.

With the new iPhone, Apple claims that it’ll help you with three things: photo and video effects, precise placement of AR objects, and object and room scanning. The last two applications might be largely for developers and businesses like construction that need to map the room. For an average consumer, photo and video effects might be the most interesting part.

Because LiDAR can work in the dark by shooting lasers to calculate distances, Apple’s using it to improve the autofocus on the high-end iPhones. The company claims that because of the sensor the iPhone 12 Pro phones has 6 times faster autofocus in low light as compared to a normal camera. Plus, the LiDAR sensor enables the device to take better portrait mode photos in low-light conditions.

lidar sensor view

How will Apple apps benefit?

It’s all about accuracy. Take the Measure app, for example, which will be able to calculate, say, height with accuracy. That wasn’t possible before – not accurately anyway. There’s a new Ruler View that will be available in an update.

Developers will be able to use the LIDAR data as best benefits their application, using a new Scene Geometry API. We’re sure there will be various examples in gaming, science, fitness and other applications in the future.

Where can I use Apple’s LIDAR system?

Apple’s LIDAR scanner is said to be able to scan objects up to 5 metres away. As the laser works at a photon level, it’s able to function night or day, inside or out.

However, it can’t ‘see’ through objects, so rain, passing people, and so on, could confuse the system.

What else uses LIDAR?

We’ve seen LIDAR used in various applications before, the most prominent being automotive systems designed to assist self-driving cars or automatic steering safety features. There are also construction applications and more.


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