I use a LIDAR Lite with an OSD called PItlabs. The device interfaces with the Pitlabs OSD.
Just recently, Pitlabs introduced a Mavlink firmware version. The OSD menu system has the ability to send commands to an Arducopter drone. Change flight modes, waypoint navigation, etc.
Check out the thread at:
The first image in the thread is from my quadcopter. The large number “61” bottom center is the LIDAR range. Very accurate out to about 40m. No reason you could not point it forward.
Any other questions, let me know. Perhaps this gear will solve your issue.