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Future mobile robots will have to explore larger and larger areas, performing difficult tasks, while preserving, at the same time, their safety. This will primarily require advanced sensing and perception capabilities. In this respect, laser range sensors represent a feasible and promising solution that is rapidly gaining interest in the robotics community. This paper describes recent work of the authors in hardware and algorithm development of a 3-D laser scanner for mobile robot applications, which features cost effectiveness, lightweight, compactness, and low power consumption. The sensor allows an autonomous vehicle to scan its environment and to generate an internal hazard representation of the world in the form of digital elevation map. Details of the device are presented along with a thorough performance analysis as function of the relevant operational parameters, such as elevation and nodding angular rate. The generation of elevation models is also investigated, addressing the issues connected with the presence of overhanging objects and occluded areas.