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LIDAR vs RADAR for Applied Autonomy

In order to reach full autonomy vehicles must be able to take in and understand their surroundings. And then make the correct decision based on the information. This can be done using different sensor technologies. We are going to look into and compare two of the technologies on the market: LIDAR vs RADAR – which one is best suited for Applied Autonomy?


Just like a creature of flesh and blood an autonomous vehicle needs to perceive the world through different senses. This type of perception and sensing can be achieved using various types of sensors, which gathers information about the surroundings and formats it into something that a computer can understand. Much like the human senses, there are different strengths and weaknesses, would you rather smell or taste a cup of coffee, would you be able to drink it without sight or touch? Using the correct sensor for the correct application will be crucial to a successful autonomous product. When to use LIDAR over RADAR is just one of the many questions that need to be looked into.

What is Applied Autonomy?

At Semcon we are in the forefront of developing self-driving cars. The area of Applied Autonomy focuses on services developed in order to automate all other types of vehicles and machines. Examples of applications are from drones used to put out forest fires, rock drilling, vehicles used inside of factories and autonomous snowploughs. Research and development in the automotive industry will pave the way for technologies but the actual implementation in Applied Autonomy will vary depending on for example environment, safety, tasks and system optimizations.

LIDAR vs RADAR – which is the better sensor for applied autonomy?

The Applied Autonomy field is a diverse one. A technological solution perfect for one project might not work at all well for another. Applications can range from drones used to put out forest fires, rock drilling, vehicles inside a factory and autonomous snowploughs. In order to explore LIDAR vs RADAR technology we will start by learning more about each solution.

What is LIDAR and when is it better than RADAR?

LIDAR, Light Imaging Detection and Ranging, is a surveying technology using laser light pulses, as opposed to the RADAR:s use of radio waves. The precision provided by LIDAR sensors is hard to beat, thanks to the large amount of laser pulses forming so called point clouds. The point cloud can then be used for various algorithms, AI, Machine learning or other analysis software as you have a digitalized representation of the world. That is a clear advantage for LIDAR compared to RADAR.

As mentioned before, in the area of Applied Autonomy the speed of the vehicles is not usually the problem. Large vehicles plowing a field or moving in a restricted construction site will not have to worry about pedestrians, racing drivers or traffic lights. For this area LIDAR would in most cases be a better option over RADAR, though the technology is still expensive to use on a larger scale.

Why choose LIDAR over RADAR?

  • Good at detecting small objects thanks to short wavelength

  • Great precision, can build an exact 3D monochromatic image of an object.

LIDAR disadvantages

  • Limited usage nighttime or bad weather

  • Quite expensive technology


Per Hagman, Semcon

Per Hagman

Area Manager

Software & Emerging Tech

Baard Røsvik, Semcon

Baard Røsvik

Business Development Manager