How Do Laser Rangefinders And Hypsometers Work?

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A laser rangefinder is a device that uses a laser beam to determine the distance to an object or the height of an object above a given level. It works by projecting a laser beam towards the object and then measuring the time it takes for the beam to be reflected back to the device.

In the case of a hypsometer, additional information such as the angle of inclination is also used to calculate the height of an object, like a tree or a building. These tools are used in a variety of fields, from forestry and construction to military operations and sports like golfing and hunting, due to their accuracy and ease of use.

The hypsometer pictured in this article is the NEW TruPulse® L2 Laser Hypsometer available August 15.

Rangefinder Vs Hypsometer

uses for laser rangefinder
Image: lasertechnologyinc

Both laser rangefinders and hypsometers are devices used to measure distance, but they are typically used for slightly different purposes.

A laser rangefinder is a device that uses a laser beam to measure the distance between the device and a target object. The rangefinder sends a laser pulse in a narrow beam towards a target and measures the time taken by the pulse to be reflected off the target and returned to the sender. This technology is commonly used in many industries, including construction, military, and sports, for accurate distance measurements.

A hypsometer, on the other hand, is used to measure height, specifically the height of trees in forestry. A hypsometer can be a simple device like a clinometer, which measures angles, or a more complex one like a laser rangefinder with an inclinometer. The laser hypsometer calculates the height of an object by measuring the distance to the object and the angle to the top of the object. This is often used in forestry to measure tree height but can also be used in other fields where accurate height measurement is necessary.

In essence, while both devices use similar technology, the key difference lies in their primary application: a rangefinder for distance, and a hypsometer for height (although a hypsometer also measures distance as part of its height calculation). Some devices combine both functions into a single tool.

How Do Rangefinders Work?

how do laser rangefinder work
Image: lasertechnologyinc

Laser rangefinders operate based on a simple principle. They measure the time it takes for a laser beam to travel from the device to an object and back.

Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how it works:

    1. Emission: When you aim the rangefinder at a target and activate it, the device emits a narrow beam of laser light towards the object.
    2. Reflection: The laser beam hits the target object and is reflected back towards the rangefinder.
    3. Detection: A sensor in the rangefinder detects the reflected light beam.
    4. Time Calculation: The device measures the time it took for the laser beam to travel from the rangefinder to the object and back.
    5. Distance Calculation: The speed of light is constant, so the device uses the time measurement to calculate the distance.The basic formula used is:Distance = (Speed of Light * Time of Flight) / 2The division by 2 is necessary because the light has traveled to the object and back, effectively making the journey twice the distance to the object.
    6. Display: The calculated distance is then displayed on the screen of the device.

Most modern laser rangefinders are very accurate, often to within a meter or even less, making them invaluable tools in many different fields and industries.

In the case of a laser rangefinder, the device measures the direct “line of sight” distance to the target, which doesn’t typically account for the height of the person using the device. If you’re standing and you point a rangefinder directly at a target on the same level, the device will measure the distance from the device itself (held at your height) to the target.

On the other hand, a hypsometer, which is a type of rangefinder specifically designed to measure height, factors in the angle of inclination to calculate the height of an object. A common use of a hypsometer is to measure the height of a tree. In this case, the user would stand a known distance from the tree (often measured with the rangefinder function), aim the hypsometer at the top of the tree, and the device would then use the angle of inclination and the horizontal distance to the tree to calculate its height using basic trigonometry.

The height of the person using the device would matter if you want to know the total height from the ground to the top of an object, such as a tree. In that case, you would need to add your eye height (the height at which you’re holding the device) to the height reading on the hypsometer.

Laser Rangefinder Uses

how do hypsometers work
Image: lasertechnologyinc

Laser rangefinders and hypsometers have a variety of uses across several industries due to their ability to measure distance, height, and slope accurately.

Here are some common applications:

  1. Surveying and Geomatics: Laser rangefinders are used in geodesy and topography to measure long distances, especially where using a physical measure like a tape is impractical or impossible.
  2. Construction and Architecture: They are often used in the construction industry to plan out workspaces, calculate distances, and accurately draw or plan architectural projects.
  3. Forestry: Hypsometers are commonly used in forestry to measure tree height, which is a vital part of inventory work and management plans. They can also measure slope and horizontal distances, which can be used to calculate the timber volume of a stand or forest.
  4. Mining: They are used in the mining industry to measure the dimensions of open pit mines and to plan blasting and drilling operations.
  5. Real Estate and Interior Design: These tools are used to measure the dimensions of rooms, buildings, and property lines. This data is important for space planning, creating floor plans, and estimating the cost of renovations or new constructions.
  6. Military and Law Enforcement: In these fields, laser rangefinders are often integrated with weapons systems to calculate distances to targets for artillery and snipers. They are also used to calculate distances during accident investigations.
  7. Golf and Hunting: Golfers use rangefinders to determine the distance to the hole or other points on the golf course, while hunters use them to range their targets for better accuracy.
  8. Photography and Filmmaking: Rangefinders can help photographers and filmmakers focus their cameras when shooting from a distance.
  9. Navigation: They can be used to assist in navigation, whether in a marine environment or in the air.
  10. Science and Research: Researchers use laser rangefinders/hypsometers in many fields, including archaeology, biology, geology, and physics. They can measure everything from the size and distance of astronomical objects to the movement of glaciers.

The versatility of these instruments means they are incredibly valuable tools in many professional and leisure activities. Axe throwing is another random example.

Laser rangefinders could be used in axe throwing to precisely measure the distance between the thrower and the target. This can be especially useful in a competitive setting or during practice sessions to ensure consistency and fairness. Knowing the exact distance may help in honing skills as throwers could adjust their techniques based on the precise measurement of how far they are from the target.

However, it’s worth noting that the value of a laser rangefinder in this context might be limited because the standard distance in competitive axe throwing is usually fixed – typically at around 12 to 15 feet according to World Axe Throwing League rules. Therefore, once the lanes are set up appropriately, there should be little need for ongoing distance measurements.

Rangefinders And Hypsometers

Laser rangefinders and hypsometers are optical devices used for measuring distances and heights respectively.

A laser rangefinder measures the “line of sight” distance from the device to a target by emitting a laser beam and measuring the time it takes for the beam to bounce back from the target, making use of the constant speed of light. On the other hand, a hypsometer, often integrated with a rangefinder, measures the height of an object by calculating the distance to the object and the angle of inclination to its top.

The cost of laser rangefinders and hypsometers varies significantly depending on the device’s specifications, features, accuracy, and the manufacturer. You can find basic laser rangefinders suitable for activities like golf or hunting for as low as $100-$200. More advanced or professional models, such as those used in construction, surveying, or forestry, could range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars.

Hypsometers, especially those designed for professional use in forestry or construction, may also come in the higher price range due to their added functionality and precision. While the cost of professional-grade devices may be prohibitive for casual use, there are plenty of affordable options suitable for hobbies or occasional use. It’s always a good idea to research and compare prices based on the specific requirements you have.


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