Affordable LiDAR


Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) is a rapidly emerging technology that researchers and professionals around the world are using in a variety of contexts applicable to many school subjects. With impressively precise 3-dimensional mapping capabilities, LiDAR can be used to teach forestry, visualization and gaming, urban planning, civil engineering, and architecture, just to name a few. However, the high cost (> $50000) associated with LiDAR instruments inhibits the use of LiDAR technology in K-12 classrooms. To give K-12 students the opportunity to work with LiDAR technology, we designed a low-cost ($300-400) LiDAR instrument. It is our intention that this affordable LiDAR unit will be used in providing a new and exciting lens when engaging students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.


Figure 1. Laser point cloud acquired with the low-cost LiDAR instrument. The point cloud shown in the image is displayed in the open-source software package CloudCompare.

Build your own LiDAR:

  • You will need the following materials (~ $300):
Figure 2. Low-cost LiDAR part list.

Figure 2. Low-cost LiDAR part list.

  • Option 1 (~$300 per LiDAR unit): Build from your own home or at school (for building instructions click here).

Pros: Cheaper option, students could help in the process of building the LiDAR unit even if no machine shop is available at school

Cons: Not as accurate

  • Option 2 (~$400 per LiDAR unit): Take Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings to local machine shop (for CAD drawings click here).

Pros: More user-friendly to middle school user, students could help in the process of building the LiDAR unit if machine shop is available at school

Cons: More expensive (~ $100 dollars per unit)


Questions about how to bring LiDAR into your classroom?  Please contact Ross L. Parsons (


Video 1: LiDAR set-up and taking LiDAR measurements

Video 2: Importing LiDAR data into Microsoft Excel and viewing in CloudCompare


We acknowledge the funding from grant/cooperative agreement number 08HQGR0157 from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) via a subaward from AmericaView and USDA-NIFA Award Nos. 2011-67003-3034 and 2011-68002-30191. Use of trade names does not constitute an official endorsement by the authors or the University of Idaho.