A hand holding the Zebedee, a handheld laser scanner

Zebedee, at Fort Lytton

Zebedee: 3D mapping

CSIRO has developed Zebedee, a handheld laser scanner which generates 3D maps of challenging environments in the time it takes to walk through them. Uniquely, Zebedee does not rely on GPS, and this makes it well-suited to various scientific and commercial applications.

  • 5 August 2013 | Updated 11 June 2014

Introducing Zebedee

Access to high-quality 3D maps of an environment can help improve decisions and productivity across a wide range of applications.

Until now, it has been difficult to obtain 3D maps as traditional methods either involve cumbersome measurements, expensive laser scanners or external references such as GPS (Global Positioning System).

CSIRO has developed the world’s first lightweight, handheld 3D laser mapping systems, Zebedee, which is self-contained and does not rely on external positioning systems.

Simple to use, Zebedee creates 3D laser maps continuously, quickly, reliably, and cost-effectively.

The system is suitable for 3D mapping applications in indoor, underground and outdoor environments, including locations previously inaccessible to larger scanning equipment. And unlike wheeled mobile systems, Zebedee can operate on stairways and rough terrain.

The system offers a unique combination of portability, efficient data collection, accuracy in areas with no GPS, rapid scanning of large areas, and automatic data processing.

Watch the video below to see Zebedee in action:

Transcript: Mobile Mapping Indoors and Outdoors with Zebedee.

Our Technology

CSIRO is a world leader in real-time 3D mapping. Zebedee rapidly generates a 3D map as the operator walks through a site. The laser scanner rocks back and forward on a spring, continuously scanning the environment, while a computer records the sensor data.

Zebedee has the following capabilities:

  • Portability: The Zebedee system can be used to scan most environments accessible to people, from stairways to small tunnels to rough terrain, which are often inaccessible to other 3D mapping systems, such as terrestrial scanners which are mounted on tripods, or vehicle-mounted mobile mapping systems.
  • Accuracy in areas with no GPS: Built on CSIRO’s world leading robotics localisation technology, Zebedee uses the environment itself, rather than external reference systems or artificial, to simultaneously locate the device and map the site. This ability enables Zebedee’s use in indoor, underground, and covered environments, such as forests, underground mines, and processing plants.
  • Continuous scanning: To generate a 3D map, Zebedee continuously estimates its trajectory through the environment and collects over 40,000 range measurements every second while the system is in motion. Existing systems must stop at a series of stations, often for several minutes at a time, to record scan data.
  • Minimises shadowing: Since Zebedee is a mobile system, surfaces in the environment are seen from a variety of viewpoints, thereby minimising shadowing that occurs due to occulsion.
  • Efficient data collection: Zebedee automatically captures and processes data quickly and without a complex setup. The time it takes to map an environment is the time it takes to walk through it. Projects that previously required several hours with existing equipment, can now be completed in minutes with Zebedee. Data can be quickly processed in the field, providing timely feedback to the operator who can re-scan areas with incomplete coverage.

Zebedee components

The Zebedee system consists of the following components, which can be stored in an easy to carry backpack:

  • Lightweight Sensors: The Zebedee sensing platform consists of a lightweight Hokuyo UTM-30LX 2D laser scanner with 30m range, and an industrial-grade MEMS inertial measurement unit (IMU) mounted on a simple spring mechanism. The spring’s movement enables the 2D laser scanner to scan in three dimensions.
  • Li-ion Battery Pack: A lightweight lithium-ion battery pack supplies power to the sensors and laptop, allowing for hours of continuous operation.
  • Logging Computer: A logging computer, typically a small laptop, is used to run sensor drivers, and record 3D map data.
  • Application Software: CSIRO’s proprietary software is capable of continuously calculating the sensor trajectory in real-time, and generates a 3D pointcloud model of the environment. Data processing is fully automated.


Zebedee is well-suited to many scientific and commercial applications, such as:

  • Manufacturing: Data captured using Zebedee could be used to improve the efficiency and flow of production on a factory floor. It can compare maps with design documents to safely and accurately position autonomous assembly machines, or scan a factory floor everyday to track manufacturing progress.
  • Forestry: In dense forests, shadowing in data can occur with traditional 3D mapping equipment. Zebedee can map individual trees, resulting in 3D forest maps with minimal shadowing. With regular scans, the system can keep track of individual tree growth and other metrics.
  • Mining: GPS is widely used on mine sites, however it does not operate underground, and is often unreliable in pits; and some areas of mine sites are too small and confined for large 3D mapping equipment to get into. Zebedee can accurately map locations without GPS coverage, and can access confined areas of a mine, to generate a 3D model of the site for further analysis and planning.
  • First Responders: The technology can be mounted on first responders in emergency situations, and can communicate positioning and environmental data between key personnel.
  • Security: Pointcloud data can be compared over time to help security personnel detect unexpected changes to an environment. The ease of data acquisition with Zebedee means that frequent remapping, even multiple times per day, of event venues, public infrastructure, hotels, or other buildings used is now achievable.
  • Cultural Heritage: Hand measurements and sketches are widely used to record details of cultural heritage sites, however this is time consuming and expensive. Zebedee can help preservation efforts of cultural heritage sites by regularly creating detailed digital 3D maps of existing sites to compare changes over time.

Find out more about the commercialisation of Zebedee

Find out more about our work in Computational Informatics.