Geiger-mode and single photon lidar sensors have recently emerged on the commercial market, advertising greater collection efficiency than the traditional linear mode lidar (LML) systems. Non-linear photon detection is a new technology for the geospatial community, and its performance characteristics for surveying and mapping are not yet well understood. Therefore, the geospatial quality of the data produced by one of these new sensors, the Leica SPL100, is examined by comparing the achieved lidar point cloud accuracy, precision, digital elevation model (DEM) generation, canopy penetration, and multiple return generation to a LML point cloud. We find the SPL100 has a lower ranging precision than linear mode lidar and that the precision is more negatively affected by surface properties such as low intensity and high incidence angle. The accuracy of the SPL100 point cloud, however, was found to be comparable to LML for smooth horizontal surfaces. A 1 m resolution SPL100 DEM was also comparable to a corresponding LML DEM, but the SPL100 was observed to have a reduced ability to resolve multiple returns through vegetation when compared to a LML sensor. In its current state, the SPL100 is likely best suited for applications in which the need for collection efficiency outweighs the need for maximum precision and canopy penetration and modeling.
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