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LiDAR Software: New Releases

Continuous developments in the hardware capabilities of LiDAR data acquisition have raised the demand for LiDAR data processing software that carries new tools for data manipulation and management. With the additional information becoming available through LiDAR surveys, solution providers are making efforts to develop more flexible processing structures to handle the growing volumes of data efficiently.

With developments in the data processing domain taking fast, we take a look at few news items (appeared in a period of last one year) pertaining to data processing tools.

Tiltan Systems Engineering of Israel, provider of 2D- and 3D -image generation systems and derived applications announced the release of its LiDAR data processing tool, TLiD. This tool is said to deliver faster and more accurate data processing of LiDAR point clouds, can generate geographic information layers and provide optimised 3D models for real-time applications. Its design provides extraction of DTM from bare earth to complex roofs and building shapes, trees and power lines.

QCoherent Software of USA, released LP360, a LiDAR software extension for ArcGIS, this year. The LP360 uses a specially-designed ArcMap™ data layer to access points directly from LAS files. It integrates LiDAR point cloud datasets into ArcGIS™ without requiring an import or conversion process. With LP360 LiDAR data can be combined with data in any format supported by ArcGIS.

Optech introduced DASHMap, the data processing software for its Airborne Laser Terrain Mapper (ALTM) product line. DASHMap boasts of having accelerated data acquisition-to-processing ratio, a simplified user interface with embedded 3D visualisation, tool for geodetic transformation and the elimination of intermediate processing files.

As per the sources, Optech also plans to collaborate with Canada based, InnovMetric Software Inc. to bundle ILRIS-3D products with the PolyWorks, a point cloud processing software suite. Under the terms of this agreement, Optech will bundle a license of the PolyWorks IMAlign module with each ILRIS system of Optech. Optech has also added a new feature to its scanner system, ILRIS-36D. Named as Profile Scanning, the new feature is designed to reduce ILRIS-36D scanning and post processing time by eliminating the need for alignment overlaps. The new software synchronises the rotational speed of the pan and tilt base with vertical scanning action to capture a complete or selected portion of a continuous 360 degree scene.

PCI Geomatics announced the signing of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) agreement with Ambercore Software Inc. for the creation of Geomatica LiDAREngine, which was launched late last year 2006. Geomatica LiDAREngine is a data management, analysis, and visualisation tool for LiDAR data. It’s architecture and algorithms are for processing very large volumes of LiDAR data. The combination of Geomatica product line with LiDAREngine are said to offer faster ortho-image processing with improved accuracy.

In March this year, Cloud Peak Software, LLC, introduced LiDAR Surface Magic 2. It provides unsupervised classification of non-ground features like vegetation and buildings in LiDAR point clouds, resulting in a ground surface. The algorithm adapts to the terrain condition, freeing the user from the manual task of providing multiple parameterizations. With improved scaling for high density data, Surface Magic 2 effortlessly processes data from the newest LiDAR instruments.

Apart from the commercial software, mention should be made here of the Martin Isenburg’s homepage (https://www.cs.unc.edu/~isenburg/) that provide online tools for fast visualisation of LiDAR data in Google Earth. Martin is from University of North Carolina, and has posted tools that allow quick conversion of LiDAR data into contour and DEM Google Earth KMZ files. The process involves taking the original LiDAR data, simplifying it down to generate contours, then converting it directly to either transparent contour overlays, or high-resolution DEM reflectance overlays. The site, among other, also provides tools for converting, viewing and compressing LiDAR data.

However, nothing much was seen in the open source area in the past one year. GRASS 6.2.2 was released this year, but with no new features added (apart from bug fixes in the 6.2.1 source code), the new release does talk of having improved LiDAR data processing capability.

Apart from processing the point cloud data to produce elevation models, high-resolution LiDAR data opens new possibilities for Automated Feature Extraction (AFE) tasks. The two major solutions of AFE available from Visual Learning Systems (VLS) of USA are Feature Analyst and LiDAR Analyst 4.2. Feature Analyst exists as extensions to ERDAS IMAGINE, SOCET SET, the ArcGIS suite, and GeoMedia. Lately extension capabilities to Remote View have also been provided. LiDAR Analyst 4.2 is the new VLS product that automates 3D capture of buildings, trees, and bare earth terrain from LiDAR data. In 2006 VLS introduced the concept of Feature Modeler and the Feature Model Library (FML) as tools within Feature Analyst to automate the feature extraction workflow process. Feature Modeler provides users with a comprehensive set of tools for examining and refining feature models created with Feature Analyst. FML resides within a relational database and is used for storing AFE models to support enterprise-wide geospatial processing. Analysts can search and retrieve AFE models for subsequent processing in a batch mode to extract features from imagery without any training sets. The Feature Modeler software allows a user to import an AFE model to examine and adjust parameter settings or deploy a learning model in a batch-processing mode.

Conclusion:
Robust and reliable tools for data processing have always been in demand in the user community keeping in view the amount of data that LiDAR acquisition generates. Last few years have seen the shift in data processing wherein manipulation and classification of data is now done using post-processing software that are third-party stand-alone products and now widely available in the market. Companies are also targeting to remove shortcomings in user interfaces of the currently available LiDAR processing systems and LiDAR add-packages with regards to intuitivness and efficiency that may make the production process less tedious. The future scenario of the data-processing domain may best be put as in the words of Arlan Pool, Technical Director, Mercury Computer Systems who says “You will want to do more of the processing closer to the sensor. Instead of sending a host of raw data down for further processing, it will be possible to process that data on board the aircraft and to deploy the LiDAR exploitation tools on the spot.”

LiDAR Processing Software
Terrascan

Terrasolid, Finland

Terrascan runs on top of Bentley’s Microstation. It can handle as many as 40 million points per GB of RAM. As a dedicated LiDAR processing solution it offers many manual and automated point classification routines. Besides built–in formats, like LAS and TerraScan binary, the user can define his/her own formats for reading-in practically any ASCII-survey files. Natural combinations to TerraScan in laser data processing are TerraSlave, TerraMatch, TerraModeler and TerraPhoto from Terrasolid. )

Merrick Advanced Remote Sensing Software – MARS

Merrick and Company, USA

The MARS Software application comprises a Windows-based modular suite of tools that are used to manage field collection, production, and client deliverable workflows. Project data and attribute information are stored in binary format, minimizing file size, which greatly optimises performance. Whole projects can be viewed and exported with minimal computing power. One thousand square miles of data or more encompassing 100 GB of information can be managed at the desktop level. This eliminates requirements for large and expensive system network and database software. Data can be imported or exported in most common CAD and GIS platform formats. Any type of Digital Surface Model (DSM) data can be ingested and analysed in MARS . )

TopoSys Processing and Imaging Tools (TopIT)

TopoSys, Germany

The TopPIT software package is for the analysis and reprocessing of LiDAR and RGB/NIR data. The software is optimised for the analysis of TopoSys Falcon data. Due to the modular structure of the software and the integrated import interfaces, data of other sensor manufacturers can also be processed efficiently. Export interfaces enable reprocessing of data with all conventional GIS and image processing programmes. The software modules are linked with one another via a GUI and thus ensure simple, convenient running of the programme. In addition, dependencies are checked for quality assurance purposes and each work step is recorded. TopPIT software runs under LINUX, the ideal operating system for this application.

Tools available with TopIT are

  1. Kortra GUI – Permits transformation of 2D and 3D coordinates (latitude, longitude and height) into various coordinate systems.
  2. TopoSys Converter (TSC)- For converting and displaying TopoSys elevation models.
  3. TopPIT XV-Viewer and Editor – For visualisation and for manually editing TopoSys raster data and RGB/NIR data. (https://www.toposys.com/)

ALTEXIS

Geokosmos, Russia

Geokosmos offers new version 2.0 of the ALTEXIS software system. The ALTEXIS software provides metrological provisioning for air survey facilities including calibration procedures for LiDAR and digital cameras. The ALTEXIS tools make it possible to perform ortho-rectification and geopositioning of aerial photos with an accuracy of up to 0.2 m. The ALTEXIS Constellation software facility offers a variety of instruments for automatic and manual identification and vectoring of geographical objects using both types of data. Few of the key features are –

  • Fully automated selection of calibration adjustments by using ‘wire’-type calibration object
  • Co-ordinate re-calculation in real-time mode
  • Automatic detection of DTM structural components (peaks, depressions and break lines)
  • Conversion of other spatial components to DXF format
  • Output of a triangulated model (TIN) for the true-ground surface (https://www.geokosmos.com/products/corefuncs.php)

LiDAR Analyst

Visual Learning Systems, USA

LiDAR Analyst is a 3D feature extraction solution for airborne LiDAR data that enables fully automated 3D feature extraction from LiDAR data. Extracted features include attributes (building height, roof type, crown width, etc.). The solution offers batch processing along with tools for extraction of contour lines. The latest version of LiDAR Analyst 4.2, comes enhanced with a new interface for access to parameter settings, which control the accuracy and level of detail in extraction of terrain and culture features.

New tools include:

  • Export to Google Earth
  • Control Point Analysis
  • Assign Coordinate System to LAS File
  • Convert LAS File to Raster Dataset
  • Modify buildings
  • Edit DEM
  • Import LiDAR data returns in a variety of point feature and gridded data formats
  • Classify LAS point clouds based upon user settings and LiDAR Analyst extractions )

Quick Terrain Modeler

Applied Imagery, USA

Originally invented at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab (APL) and was formerly called QT Modeler. It is created and optimised for 3-D LiDAR, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and other 3-D sensor survey data.

Features include:

  • Build both point clouds and gridded surface models (both displayed simultaneously).
  • Manually remove terrain features with area smoothing tools.
  • Align multiple scans from Optech ILRIS 3-D laser scanners. Cut, crop, and delete points in 3-D models.
  • Export Model Data: ASCII XYZ, Binary, GeoTIFF DEM, ESRI Grid ASCII, batch functionality.
  • Export 2-D Imagery: 8 types of GeoTIFF (e.g., altitude colored, hillshade, etc.) as well as oblique imagery (TIF, BMP).
  • Quickly create custom AVI fly-throughs for playback on any standard media player. )

LiDAR Geocode

GeoLas Consulting, Germany

Geocode is the tool for converting the raw data collected by Riegl LMS-Q120/140/240/280 serieslaserscanners or the LiteMapper LiDAR systems into geocoded points in the desired coordinate system. Geocode is a stand-alone application that interfaces smoothly with Terrascan and other LiDAR post-processing tools.

Features:

  • Reads native binary LiDAR data files and trajectory and attitude data files
  • Calculates the accurate location of the return in the selected projected coordinate system
  • Selection of preset and user-defined ellipsoids, datums, and projections available
  • Output format in ASCII, native Terrascan Binary, or LAS binary format
  • Color adjustment for RGB output of LMS Q280 series sensors in Terrascan binary output
  • Generation of processing protocol and output data statistics for quality control
  • Batch processing of multiple flightlines
  • Selectable calibration files for specific LiDAR sensors
  • Provides control over installation-specific boresight offsets

GeocodeWF is the tool for converting the raw waveform data collected by Riegl LMS-Q560 laserscanner-based LiDAR systems.

Distinct Features:

  • Detects surface returns in echo waveforms and determines the accurate location of the return.
  • Provides true surface reflectance at the laser wavelength by scaling return intensity with range. (https://www.geolas.com/Pages/servProdSales.html)

LASEdit (v1.15.1)

Cloud Peak Software, LLC, USA

It is stand-alone solution (CAD or GIS software not required) that comes with LASEdit’s Surface Magic, bare earth classification algorithm. It offers hands-free fully automated surfacing. LASEdit comes with tools for intelligent point thinning and manual editing by single point or multi-point polygon selection.

  • Display LiDAR data in orthographic and 3D perspective view.
  • Cross section/profile data inspection and editing.
  • Colour, grayscale, and intensity shaded TIN display.
  • Point cloud display by classification, return number, elevation, intensity, or source ID.
  • Contour overlay generation.
  • LAS standard or user-defined classification schemes. )

LiDAR XLR8R

Airborne1 Corporation, USA

XLR8R comes with user-defined and optimised surface building parameters that allow the user to control: Surface precision, Gap filling method, Flat area reconstruction. Its 2D and 3D capabilities include Transparency, Multi Layering, Draping and Seamless 2D/3D switching. Other salient features are:

  • Ability to instantly re-project data on-the-fly when combining several layers in different projections in the same map window
  • Import/export capabilities from well known GIS data formats such as ESRI, USGS, MI and others
  • Ability to perform several analytical tasks simultaneously (Hyperi-Threading) while maintaining normal workflow
  • Layer management control including:
    1. Shading
    2. Dynamic colouring
    3. DEM model splicing
    4. DEM model trimming
    5. DEM model smoothing
  • Project based workflow supporting logical union of data layers, preferences and layouts
  • Intuitive graphical user interface with drag & drop capability
  • Wizard based approach for creating analytical applications
  • Publish results to Google Earth )