Clean DTM from Agisoft Photogrammetric Points of Urban Scene

We occasionally get permission to distribute a nice data sets and blog about how to best process it with LAStools because this gets around having to pay our “outrageous” consulting fees. (-: This time we received a nice photogrammetric point cloud of the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos Island, Lagos, Nigeria. This area is part of the central business district of Lagos and characterized by high-rise buildings. The Tafawa Balewa Square was constructed in 1972 over the site of a defunct track for horse racing and is bounded by Awolowo road, Cable street, Force road, Catholic Mission street and the 26-story Independence House. We want to create a nice Digital Terrain Model from the dense-matching point cloud that was generated with Photoscan by AgiSoft and – as always with photogrammetry – we have to take special care of low noise points. The final result is shown below. All processing commands used are here.

After downloading the data it is useful to familiarize yourself with the file, which can be done with lasview, lasinfo, and lasgrid using the command lines shown below. According to the lasinfo report there are around 47 million points points with RGB colors in the file and their average density is around 100 points per square meter.

lasview -i 0_raw\TafawaBalewa.laz

lasinfo -i 0_raw\TafawaBalewa.laz ^
        -cd -histo intensity 256 ^
        -histo z 1 ^
        -odir 1_quality -odix _info -otxt

lasgrid -i 0_raw\TafawaBalewa.laz ^
        -step 1 ^
        -density ^
        -false -set_min_max 50 150 ^
        -odir 1_quality -odix _d_50_150 -opng

The average point density value of 100 from the lasinfo report suggests that 50 as the minimum and 150 as the maximum are good false color ramp values for a map showing how the point density per square meter is distributed.

Color-coded point density: blue equals 50 or less and red means 150 or more points per square meter.

We use lastile to create a buffered tiling for the 47 million points. We use a tile size of 200 meters and request a large buffer of 50 meters around every tile because there are large buildings in the survey areas. We also flag buffer points as withheld so they can be easily be dropped later.

lastile -i 0_raw\TafawaBalewa.laz ^
        -tile_size 200 -buffer 50 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -odir 2_tiles_raw -o tafawa.laz

If you inspect the resulting tiles – such as ‘tafawa_544000_712600.laz’ as shown here – with lasview you will see the kind of low noise that is shown below and that may cause a ground classification algorithm. While our lasground software is able to deal with a certain amount of low noise – if there are too many it will likely latch onto them. Therefore we will first generate a subset of points that has as few as possible of such low noise points.

Typical low noise in dense-matching photogrammetry points in urban scene.

Next we use a sequence of three LAStools modules, namely lasthinlasground, and lasheight to classify this photogrammtric point cloud into ground and non-ground points. All processing commands used are here. First we use lasthin to give the point the classification code 8 that is closest to the 50th percentile in elevation within every 50 centimeter by 50 centimeter cell (but only if the cells containing at least 20 points).

lasthin -i 2_tiles_raw\tafawa*.laz ^
        -step 0.5 ^
        -percentile 50 20 ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_median_50cm -olaz ^
        -cores 3

Next we use lasground to ground-classify only the points that have classification code 8 (i.e. by ignoring those with classification codes 0) and set their classification code to ground (2) or non-ground (1). Because of the large buildings in this urban scene we use ‘-metro’ which uses a large step size of 50 meters for the pre-processing. This also sets the internally used bulge parameter to 5.0 which you can see if you run the tool in verbose ‘-v’ mode. In three different trial runs we determined that forcing the bulge parameter to be 0.5 instead gave better results. The bulge and the spike parameters can be useful to vary in order to improve ground classification results (also see the README file).

lasground -i 3_tiles_median_50cm\tafawa*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 0 ^
          -metro -bulge 0.5 ^
          -odir 4_tiles_ground_50cm -olaz ^
          -cores 3

The resulting ground points are a subset with a resolution of 50 centimeter that is good enough to create a DTM with meter resolution, which we do with las2dem command line shown below. We really like storing DTM elevation rasters to the LAZ point format because it is a more compressed way of storing elevation rasters compared to ASC, BIL, TIF, or IMG. It also makes the raster output a natural input to subsequent LAStools processing steps.

las2dem -i 4_tiles_ground_50cm\tafawa*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 1 -kill 100 ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 5_tiles_dtm_1m -olaz ^
        -cores 3

Finally we use blast2dem to create a seamless hill-shaded version of our 1 meter DTM from on-the-fly merged elevation rasters. This is the DTM pictured at the beginning of this article.

blast2dem -i 5_tiles_dtm_1m\tafawa*.laz -merged ^
          -step 1 ^
          -hillshade ^
          -o dtm_1m.png

The corresponding DSM pictured at the beginning of this article was generated with the two command lines below by first keeping only the 95th percentile highest elevation of every 50 cm by 50 cm cell with lasthin (which remove spurious high noise points) and then by triangulating the surviving points with blast2dem into a seamless TIN that is also hill-shaded and rasterized with 1 meter resolution. Running the 64 bit version of lasthin (note the ‘-cpu64‘ switch) allows us to work on the entire data set (rather than its tiles version) at once, where the standard 32 bit version may run out of memory.

lasthin -i 0_raw\TafawaBalewa.laz ^
        -cpu64 ^
        -step 0.5 ^
        -percentile 95 20 ^
        -o 0_raw\TafawaBalewa_p95_50.laz

blast2dem -i 0_raw\TafawaBalewa_p95_50.laz ^
          -step 1 ^
          -hillshade ^
          -o dsm_1m.png

In order to generate the final DTM at higher resolution we use lasheight to pull all points into the ground class that lie within a 5 cm distance vertically below or a 15 cm distance vertically above the triangulated surface of ground points computed in the previous step. You could experiment with other values here to be less or more conservative about pulling detail into the ground class.

lasheight -i 4_tiles_ground_50cm\tafawa*.laz ^
          -classify_between -0.05 0.15 2 ^
          -odir 6_tiles_ground -olaz ^
          -cores 3

We repeat the same processing step as before las2dem to create the raster DTM tiles, but this time with a resolution of 25 cm.

las2dem -i 6_tiles_ground\tafawa*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 0.25 -kill 100 ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 7_tiles_dtm_25cm -olaz ^
        -cores 3

And we again use blast2dem to create a seamless hill-shaded version of the DTM from on-the-fly merged elevation rasters, but this time with a resolution of 25 cm. This is the DTM shown below. All processing commands used are here.

blast2dem -i 7_tiles_dtm_25cm\tafawa*.laz -merged ^
          -step 0.25 ^
          -hillshade ^
          -o dtm_25cm.png

Hill-shade of final DTM with resolution of 25 cm.

Digital Pothole Removal: Clean Road Surface from Noisy Pix4D Point Cloud

How to generate a clean Digital Terrain Model (DTM) from point clouds that were generated with the image matching techniques implemented in various photogrammetry software packages like those from Pix4D, AgiSoft, nframes, DroneDeploy and others has become an ever more frequent inquiry. There are many other blog posts on the topic that you can peruse as well [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]. In the following we go step by step through the process of removing low noise from a high-density point cloud that was generated with Pix4D software. A composite of the resulting DTM and DSM is shown below.

Final DSM and DTM created with LAStools for a photogrammetric point cloud of a road generated by Pix4D.

After downloading the data it is useful to familiarize oneself with the number of points, the density of points and their geo-location. This can be done with lasview, lasinfo, and lasgrid using the command lines shown below. There are around 19 million points in the file and their density averages around 2300 points per square meter. Because the RGB values have a 16 bit range (as evident in the lasinfo report) we need to add the option ‘-scale_rgb_down’ to the command line when producing the RGB raster with lasgrid.

lasview -i 0_photogrammetry\densified_point_cloud.laz

lasinfo -i 0_photogrammetry\densified_point_cloud.laz ^
        -cd ^
        -o 1_quality\densified_point_cloud.txt

lasgrid -i 0_photogrammetry\densified_point_cloud.laz ^
        -scale_rgb_down ^
        -step 0.10 ^
        -rgb ^
        -fill 1 ^
        -o 1_quality\densified_point_cloud.png

The first step is to use lastile and create smaller and buffered tiles for these 19 million photogrammetry points. We use a tile size of 100 meters, request a buffer of 10 meters around every tile, and flag buffer points as withheld so they can be easily be dropped later. We also make sure that all classification codes are reset to 0.

lastile -i 0_photogrammetry\points.laz ^
        -set_classification 0 ^
        -tile_size 100 -buffer 10 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -o 2_tiles_raw\seoul.laz -olaz

We start with lassort as a pre-processing step that rearranges the points into a more coherent spatial order which often accelerates subsequent processing steps.

lassort -i 2_tiles_raw\seoul_*.laz ^
        -odir 3_tiles_temp0 -olaz ^
        -cores 4

Next we use a sequence of four modules, namely lasthin, lasnoiselasground, and lasheight with fine-tuned parameters to remove the low noise points that are typical for point clouds generated from imagery by photogrammetry software. A typical example for such noise points are shown in the image below generated with this call to lasview:

lasview -i 3_tiles_temp0\seoul_210400_542900.laz ^
        -inside 210406 542894 210421 542921 ^
        -points 20000000 ^
        -kamera 0 -95 90 0 -0.3 1.6 ^
        -point_size 4

Ground surface noise (exaggerated by pressing <]> in lasview which doubles the scale in z).

As always, the idea is to construct a surface that is close to the ground but always above the noise so that it can be used to declare all points beneath it as noise. Below is a processing pipeline whose parameters work well for this data and that you can fine tune for the point density and the noise profile of your own data.

First we use lasthin to give those points the classification code 8 that are closest to the 70th percentile in elevation within every 20 cm by 20 cm cell. As statistics like percentiles are only stable for a sufficient number of points we only do this for cells that contain 25 points or more. Given that we have an average of 2300 points per square meter this should easily be the case for all relevant cells.

lasthin -i 3_tiles_temp0\seoul_*.laz ^
        -step 0.20 ^
        -percentile 70 25 ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_temp1 -olaz ^
        -cores 4

The we run lasnoise only points on the points with classification code 8 and reclassify all “overly isolated” points with code 9. The check for isolation uses cells of size 20 cm by 20 cm by 5 cm and reclassifies the points in the center cell when the surrounding neighborhood of 27 cells has only 3 or fewer points in total. Changing the parameters for ‘-step_xy 0.20 -step_z 0.05 -isolated 3’ will remove isolated points more or less aggressive.

lasnoise -i 3_tiles_temp1\seoul_*.laz ^
         -ignore_class 0 ^
         -step_xy 0.20 -step_z 0.05 -isolated 3 ^
         -classify_as 9 ^
         -odir 3_tiles_temp2 -olaz ^
         -cores 4

Next we use lasground to ground-classify only the surviving points (that still have classification code 8) by ignoring those with classification codes 0 or 9. This sets their classification code to either ground (2) or non-ground (1). The temporary surface defined by the resulting ground points will be used to classify low points as noise in the next step.

lasground -i 3_tiles_temp2\seoul_*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 0 9 ^
          -town -ultra_fine -bulge 0.1 ^
          -odir 3_tiles_temp3 -olaz ^
          -cores 4

Then we use lasheight to classify all points that are 2.5 cm or more below the triangulated surface of temporary ground points as points as noise (7) and all others as unclassified (1).

lasheight -i 3_tiles_temp3\seoul_*.laz ^
          -classify_below -0.025 7 ^
          -classify_above -0.225 1 ^
          -odir 4_tiles_denoised -olaz ^
          -cores 4

The progress of each step is illustrated visually in the two image sequences shown below.

Now that all noise points are classified we start a standard processing pipeline, but always ignore the low noise points that are now classified with classification code 7.

The processing steps below create a 10 cm DTM raster. We first use lasthin to classify the lowest non-noise point per 10 cm by 10 cm cell. Considering only those lowest points we use lasground with options ‘-town’, ‘-extra_fine’, ‘-bulge 0.05’, and ‘-spike 0.05’. Using las2dem the resulting ground points are interpolated into a TIN and rasterized into a 10 cm DTM cutting out only the center 100 meter by 100 meter tile. We store the DTM raster as a gridded LAZ for maximal compression and finally merge these gridded LAZ files to create a hillshaded raster in PNG format with blast2dem.

lasthin -i 4_tiles_denoised\seoul_*.laz ^
        -ignore_class 7 ^
        -step 0.10 ^
        -lowest ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 5_tiles_thinned_lowest -olaz ^
        -cores 4

lasground -i 5_tiles_thinned_lowest\seoul_*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 1 7 ^
          -town -extra_fine ^
          -bulge 0.05 -spike 0.05 ^
          -odir 6_tiles_ground -olaz ^
          -cores 4

las2dem -i 6_tiles_ground\seoul_*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 0.10 ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 7_tiles_dtm -olaz ^
        -cores 4

blast2dem -i 7_tiles_dtm\seoul_*.laz -merged ^
          -hillshade ^
          -step 0.10 ^
          -o dtm_hillshaded.png

The processing steps below create a 10 cm DSM raster. We first use lasthin to classify the highest non-noise point per 10 cm by 10 cm cell. With las2dem the highest points are interpolated into a TIN and rasterized into a 10 cm DSM cutting out only the center 100 meter by 100 meter tile. Again we store the raster as gridded LAZ for maximal compression and merge these files to create a hillshaded raster in PNG format with blast2dem.

lasthin -i 4_tiles_denoised\seoul_*.laz ^
        -ignore_class 7 ^
        -step 0.10 ^
        -highest ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 8_tiles_thinned_highest -olaz ^
        -cores 4

las2dem -i 8_tiles_thinned_highest\seoul_*.laz ^
        -keep_class 8 ^
        -step 0.10 ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 9_tiles_dsm -olaz ^
        -cores 4

blast2dem -i 9_tiles_dsm\seoul_*.laz -merged ^
          -hillshade ^
          -step 0.10 ^
          -o dsm_hillshaded.png

The final result is below. The entire script is linked here. Simply download it, modify it as needed, and try it on this data or on your own data.

Scripting LAStools to Create a Clean DTM from Noisy Photogrammetric Point Cloud

A recent inquiry by Drone Deploy in the LAStools user forum gave us access to a nice photogrammetric point cloud for the village of Fillongley in the North Warwickshire district of England. They voted “Leave” with a whopping 66.9% according to the EU referendum results by the BBC. Before we say “Good riddance, Fillongley!” we EU-abuse this little village one last time and remove all their low noise points to create a nice Digital Terrain Model (DTM). The final result is shown below.

Side by side comparison of DTM and DSM generated with LAStools from photogrammetric point cloud by Drone Deploy.

After downloading the data it is useful to familiarize yourself with the point number, the point density and their geo-location, which can be done with lasview, lasinfo, and lasgrid using the command lines shown below. There are around 50 million points and their density averages close to 70 points per square meter.

lasview -i 0_photogrammetry\points.laz

lasinfo -i 0_photogrammetry\points.laz ^
        -cd ^
        -o 1_quality\fillongley.txt

lasgrid -i 0_photogrammetry\points.laz ^
        -step 0.50 ^
        -rgb ^
        -fill 1 ^
        -o 1_quality\fillongley.png

The first step is to use lastile and create smaller and buffered tiles for these 50 million photogrammetry points. We use a tile size of 200 meters, request a buffer of 25 meters around every tile, and flag buffer points as withheld so they can be easily be dropped later.

lastile -i 0_photogrammetry\points.laz ^
        -tile_size 200 -buffer 25 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -o 2_tiles_raw\fillongley.laz -olaz

Next we use a sequence of four modules, namely lasthin, lasnoiselasground, and lasheight with fine-tuned parameters to remove the low noise points that are typical for point clouds generated from imagery by photogrammetry software. A typical example for such noise points are shown in the image below.

lasview -i 2_tiles_raw\fillongley_596000_5815800.laz ^
        -inside 596050 5815775 596150 5815825 ^
        -kamera 0 -89 -1.75 0 0 1.5 ^
        -point_size 3

Clumps of low noise points typical for photogrammetry point clouds.

The idea to identify those clumps of noise is to construct a surface that is sufficiently close to the ground but always above the noise so that it can be used to classify all points beneath it as noise. However, preserving true ground features without latching onto low noise points often requires several iterations of fine-tuning the parameters. We did this interactively by repeatedly running the processing on only two representative tiles until a desired outcome was achieved.

First we use lasthin to give the point the classification code 8 that is closest to the 20th percentile in elevation within every 90 cm by 90 cm cell (but only if the cells containing at least 20 points). Choosing larger step sizes or higher percentiles resulted in missing ground features. Choosing smaller step sizes or lower percentiles resulted in low noise becoming part of the final ground model.

lasthin -i 2_tiles_raw\fillongley_*.laz ^
        -step 0.90 ^
        -percentile 20 20 ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_temp1 -olaz ^
        -cores 4

The we run lasnoise only points on the points with classification code 8 (by ignoring those with classification code 0) and reclassify all “overly isolated” points with code 12. The check for isolation uses cells of size 200 cm by 200 cm by 50 cm and reclassifies the points in the center cell when the surrounding neighborhood of 27 cells has only 3 or fewer points in total. Changing the parameters for ‘-step_xy 2.00 -step_z 0.50 -isolated 3’ will remove noise more or less aggressive.

lasnoise -i 3_tiles_temp1\fillongley_*.laz ^
         -ignore_class 0 ^
         -step_xy 2.00 -step_z 0.50 -isolated 3 ^
         -classify_as 12 ^
         -odir 3_tiles_temp2 -olaz ^
         -cores 4

Next we use lasground to ground-classify only the surviving points (that still have classification code 8) by ignoring those with classification codes 0 or 12 and set their classification code to ground (2) or non-ground (1). The temporary surface defined by the resulting ground points will be used to classify low points as noise in the next step.

lasground -i 3_tiles_temp2\fillongley_*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 0 12 ^
          -town -ultra_fine ^
          -odir 3_tiles_temp3 -olaz ^
          -cores 4

Then we use lasheight to classify all points that are 20 cm or more below the triangulated surface of temporary ground points as points as noise (7) and all others as unclassified (1).

lasheight -i 3_tiles_temp3\fillongley_*.laz ^
          -classify_below -0.20 7 ^
          -classify_above -0.20 1 ^
          -odir 4_tiles_denoised -olaz ^
          -cores 4

The progress of each step is illustrated visually in the two image sequences shown below.

 

 

Now that all noise points are classified we start a standard processing pipeline, but always ignore the noise points that are now classified with classification code 7.

The processing steps below create a 25 cm DTM raster. We first use lasthin to classify the lowest non-noise point per 25 cm by 25 cm cell. Considering only those lowest points we use lasground with options ‘-town’, ‘-extra_fine’, or ‘-bulge 0.1’. Using las2dem the resulting ground points are interpolated into a TIN and rasterized into a 25 cm DTM cutting out only the center 200 meter by 200 meter tile. We store the DTM raster as a gridded LAZ for maximal compression and finally merge these gridded LAZ files to create a hillshaded raster in PNG format with blast2dem.

lasthin -i 4_tiles_denoised\fillongley_*.laz ^
        -ignore_class 7 ^
        -step 0.25 ^
        -lowest ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 5_tiles_thinned_lowest -olaz ^
        -cores 4

lasground -i 5_tiles_thinned_lowest\fillongley_*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 1 7 ^
          -town -extra_fine -bulge 0.1 ^
          -odir 6_tiles_ground -olaz ^
          -cores 4

las2dem -i 6_tiles_ground\fillongley_*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 0.25 ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 7_tiles_dtm -olaz ^
        -cores 4

blast2dem -i 7_tiles_dtm\fillongley_*.laz -merged ^
          -hillshade ^
          -step 0.25 ^
          -o dtm_hillshaded.png

The processing steps below create a 25 cm DSM raster. We first use lasthin to classify the highest non-noise point per 25 cm by 25 cm cell. With las2dem the highest points are interpolated into a TIN and rasterized into a 25 cm DSM cutting out only the center 200 meter by 200 meter tile. Again we store the raster as gridded LAZ for maximal compression and merge these files to create a hillshaded raster in PNG format with blast2dem.

lasthin -i 4_tiles_denoised\fillongley_*.laz ^
        -ignore_class 7 ^
        -step 0.25 ^
        -highest ^
        -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 8_tiles_thinned_highest -olaz ^
        -cores 4

las2dem -i 8_tiles_thinned_highest\fillongley_*.laz ^
        -keep_class 8 ^
        -step 0.25 ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 9_tiles_dsm -olaz ^
        -cores 4

blast2dem -i 9_tiles_dsm\fillongley_*.laz -merged ^
          -hillshade ^
          -step 0.25 ^
          -o dsm_hillshaded.png

The final result is below. The entire script is linked here. Simply download it, modify it as needed, and try it on your data.

 

In Sweden, all they Wanted for Christmas was National LiDAR as Open Data

Let’s heat up some sweet, warm and spicy Glögg in celebration! They must have been good boys and girls up there in Sweden. Because “Jultomten” or simply ”Tomten” – how Sweden’s Santa Clause is called – is assuring a “God Jul” for all the Swedish LiDAR lovers this Christmas season.

Only a few weeks ago this tweet of ours had (mistakenly) included Sweden in a list of European countries that had released their national LiDAR archives as open data for public reuse over the past six years.

Turns out we were correct after all. Sweden has just opened their LiDAR data for free and unencumbered download. To get the data simply create a user account and browse to the ftp site for download as shown in the image sequence below.

The released LiDAR data was collected with a density of 1 to 2 pulses per square meter and is distributed in LASzip compressed LAZ tiles of 2500 by 2500 meters. The returns are classified into four classes: ground (2), water (9), low noise (7) and high noise (18). All items that can not be classified as any of the first four classes coded as left unclassified (1). The LAZ files do not contain CRS information, but this can easily be added with horizontal coordinates in SWERED99 TM (EPSG code 3006) and elevations in RH2000 height (EPSG code 5613).

Below a look with lasview at a 5 km by 5 km area that composed of the four tiles ‘18P001_67100_5800_25.laz‘, ‘18P001_67100_5825_25.laz‘, ‘18P001_67125_5800_25.laz‘ and ‘18P001_67125_5825_25.laz‘ with several of the different color modes available.

 

Some more details: The data was acquired at flying altitude of around 3000 meter with a maximum scan angle of ± 20º and a minimum side overlap of 10% between the flightlines. The laser footprint on ground is below 75 centimeters with slight variation based on the flying altitude. The laser scanning survey was performed with LiDAR instruments that can provide at least three returns from the same pulse. All LiDAR returns are preserved throughout the entire production chain.

The LiDAR data comes with the incredibly Creative Commons – CC0 license, which means that you can use, disseminate, modify and build on the data – even for commercial purposes – without any restrictions. You are free to acknowledge the source when you distribute the data further, but it is not required.

The LiDAR data will eventually cover approximately 75% of Sweden and new point clouds will continuously be added as additional scanning is performed according to the schedule shown below. The survey will be returning to scan every spot again after about 7 years.

2018-2022 LiDAR acquisition plan for Sweden

Below a lasinfo report for tile ‘18P001_67125_5825_25.laz‘. One noticeable oddity is the distribution of intensities. The histogram across all intensities with bins of size 256 shows two clearly distinct sets of intensities each with their own peak and a void of values between 3000 and 10000.

lasinfo -i 18P001_67125_5825_25.laz -cd -histo intensity 256
reporting all LAS header entries:
  file signature:             'LASF'
  file source ID:             0
  global_encoding:            1
  project ID GUID data 1-4:   00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000
  version major.minor:        1.2
  system identifier:          ''
  generating software:        'TerraScan'
  file creation day/year:     303/2018
  header size:                227
  offset to point data:       227
  number var. length records: 0
  point data format:          1
  point data record length:   28
  number of point records:    20670652
  number of points by return: 13947228 4610837 1712043 358397 42147
  scale factor x y z:         0.01 0.01 0.01
  offset x y z:               0 0 0
  min x y z:                  582500.00 6712500.00 64.56
  max x y z:                  584999.99 6714999.99 136.59
LASzip compression (version 3.2r2 c2 50000): POINT10 2 GPSTIME11 2
reporting minimum and maximum for all LAS point record entries ...
  X            58250000   58499999
  Y           671250000  671499999
  Z                6456      13659
  intensity          32      61406
  return_number       1          5
  number_of_returns   1          5
  edge_of_flight_line 0          1
  scan_direction_flag 0          1
  classification      1         18
  scan_angle_rank   -19         19
  user_data           0          1
  point_source_ID  1802       1804
  gps_time 222241082.251248 222676871.876191
number of first returns:        13947228
number of intermediate returns: 2110980
number of last returns:         13952166
number of single returns:       9339722
covered area in square units/kilounits: 5923232/5.92
point density: all returns 3.49 last only 2.36 (per square units)
      spacing: all returns 0.54 last only 0.65 (in units)
overview over number of returns of given pulse: 9339722 5797676 4058773 1263967 210514 0 0
histogram of classification of points:
        10888520  unclassified (1)
         9620725  ground (2)
           22695  noise (7)
          138147  water (9)
             565  Reserved for ASPRS Definition (18)
intensity histogram with bin size 256.000000
  bin [0,256) has 1753205
  bin [256,512) has 3009640
  bin [512,768) has 2240861
  bin [768,1024) has 1970696
  bin [1024,1280) has 1610647
  bin [1280,1536) has 1285858
  bin [1536,1792) has 974475
  bin [1792,2048) has 790480
  bin [2048,2304) has 996926
  bin [2304,2560) has 892755
  bin [2560,2816) has 164142
  bin [2816,3072) has 57367
  bin [3072,3328) has 18
         [void]
  bin [10752,11008) has 589317
  bin [11008,11264) has 3760
  bin [11264,11520) has 99653
  bin [11520,11776) has 778739
  bin [11776,12032) has 1393569
  bin [12032,12288) has 1356850
  bin [12288,12544) has 533202
  bin [12544,12800) has 140223
  bin [12800,13056) has 16195
  bin [13056,13312) has 2319
  bin [13312,13568) has 977
  bin [13568,13824) has 765
  bin [13824,14080) has 648
  bin [14080,14336) has 289
  bin [14336,14592) has 513
  bin [14592,14848) has 383
  bin [14848,15104) has 178
  bin [15104,15360) has 526
  bin [15360,15616) has 108
  bin [15616,15872) has 263
  bin [15872,16128) has 289
  bin [16128,16384) has 69
  bin [16384,16640) has 390
  bin [16640,16896) has 51
  bin [16896,17152) has 186
  bin [17152,17408) has 239
  bin [17408,17664) has 169
  bin [17664,17920) has 58
  bin [17920,18176) has 227
  bin [18176,18432) has 169
  bin [18432,18688) has 40
  bin [18688,18944) has 401
  bin [18944,19200) has 30
  bin [19200,19456) has 411
  bin [19456,19712) has 34
  bin [19712,19968) has 34
  bin [19968,20224) has 398
  bin [20224,20480) has 24
  bin [20480,20736) has 108
  bin [20736,20992) has 267
  bin [20992,21248) has 29
  bin [21248,21504) has 318
  bin [21504,21760) has 26
  bin [21760,22016) has 59
  bin [22016,22272) has 184
  bin [22272,22528) has 52
  bin [22528,22784) has 18
  bin [22784,23040) has 116
  bin [23040,23296) has 55
  bin [23296,23552) has 89
  bin [23552,23808) has 250
  bin [23808,24064) has 24
  bin [24064,24320) has 52
  bin [24320,24576) has 14
  bin [24576,24832) has 29
  bin [24832,25088) has 71
  bin [25088,25344) has 74
  bin [25344,25600) has 2
  bin [25600,25856) has 17
  bin [25856,26112) has 2
  bin [26368,26624) has 9
  bin [26624,26880) has 1
  bin [26880,27136) has 1
  bin [27136,27392) has 1
  bin [27392,27648) has 1
  bin [27648,27904) has 3
  bin [28416,28672) has 2
  bin [29184,29440) has 4
  bin [30720,30976) has 1
  bin [30976,31232) has 2
  bin [31232,31488) has 1
  bin [32512,32768) has 1
  bin [36864,37120) has 1
  bin [58368,58624) has 1
  bin [61184,61440) has 1
  average intensity 3625.2240208968733 for 20670652 element(s)

Scrutinizing LiDAR Data from Leica’s Single Photon Scanner SPL100 (aka SPL99)

We show how simple reordering and clever remapping of single photon LiDAR data can reduce file size by a whopping 50%. We also show that there is at least one Leica’s SPL100 sensor out there that should be called SPL99 because one of its 100 beamlets (the one with beamlet ID 53) does not seem to produce any data … (-:

Closeup on the returns of two beamlet shots colored by beamlet ID from 1 (blue) to 100 (red). Beamlet ID 53 is missing.

Following up on a recent discussion in the LAStools user forum we take a closer look at some of the single photon LiDAR collected with Leica’s SPL100 sensor made available as open data by the USGS in form of LASzip-compressed tiles in LAS 1.4 format of point type 6. This investigation was sparked by the curiosity of what value was stored to the “scanner channel” field that was added to the new point types 6 to 10 in the LAS 1.4 specification.

lasview -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120310_LAS_2018.laz ^
        -copy_scanner_channel_into_point_source ^
        -color_by_flightline

Visualizing this 2 bit number whose value can range from 0 to 3 for the first tile we downloaded resulted in this non-conclusive “magic eye” visualization. What do you see? A sailboat?

Visualizing the “scanner channel” field by mapping its four different values to different colors.

Jason Stoker from the USGS suggested that this is the truncated “beamlet” ID. Leica’s SPL100 sensor uses 100 beamlets rather than one or two laser beams to collect data. Storing the beamlet IDs between 1 and 100 to this 2 bit field that can only hold numbers between 0 and 3 is kind of pointless and should be avoided. LASzip switches prediction contexts based on this field resulting in slower compression speed and lower compression rates. The beamlet ID is also stored in the 8 bit “user data” field, so that we can simply zero the “scanner channel” field. To investigate this further we downloaded these nine tiles from this FTP site of the USGS:

Whenever we download LAZ files we first run laszip with the ‘-check’ option which performs a sanity check to make sure that the files are not truncated or otherwise corrupted. In our case we get nine solid reports of SUCCESS.

laszip -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_*_2018.laz -check

A visual inspection with lasview tells us that there are a number of flightlines in the data.

lasview -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_*_2018.laz ^
        -points 15000000 ^
        -color_by_flightline

We use las2las to extract flightline 2003 and lasinfo to produce a histogram of GPS times which we use in turn to decide on which quarter second of GPS time worth of data we want to extract again with las2las.

las2las -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_*_LAS_2018.laz ^
        -merged ^
        -keep_point_source 2003 ^
        -o USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_ps_2002.laz

lasinfo -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_ps_2002.laz ^
        -cd ^
        -histo gps_time 1 ^
        -odix _info -otxt

las2las -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_ps_2002.laz ^
        -keep_gps_time 176475495 176475495.25 ^
        -o USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_gps176475495_quarter.laz

It always helps to give your LAZ files meaningful names in case you find them again two years later or so. We can nicely see the circular scanning pattern Leica’s SPL100 sensor. With lasview we measure that this single flightline has an extent of about 2000 meters on the ground. The lasinfo report shows a pulse density of around 19 last returns per square meter. We then sort the points by GPS time using lassort. This groups together all the returns that are the result of one “shot” of the laser with 100 beamlets as we can nicely see in the las2txt output below. Each group of returns has slightly below 100 points and there is one group every 0.00002 seconds. This means the SPL100 is firing once every 20 microseconds.

lassort -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_gps176475495_quarter.laz ^
        -gps_time ^
        -odix _sorted -olaz

las2txt -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_gps176475495_quarter_sorted.laz ^
        -parse tuxyz ^
        -stdout | more
176475495.000008 4 514408.78 4830989.78 487.79
176475495.000008 9 514410.38 4830987.49 487.70
176475495.000008 47 514411.49 4830987.71 487.70
        [ ... 86 lines deleted ... ]
176475495.000008 39 514408.53 4830991.81 487.80
176475495.000008 50 514407.97 4830991.69 487.80
176475495.000008 16 514409.24 4830991.46 487.85
176475495.000028 55 514413.51 4830985.79 487.61
176475495.000028 97 514411.10 4830990.03 487.74
176475495.000028 72 514411.30 4830989.53 487.74
        [ ... 82 lines deleted ... ]
176475495.000028 45 514410.30 4830986.19 487.70
176475495.000028 3 514409.15 4830987.52 487.73
176475495.000028 96 514411.81 4830985.46 487.67
176475495.000048 66 514411.35 4830985.15 487.67
176475495.000048 83 514411.59 4830984.65 487.61
176475495.000048 64 514413.09 4830983.93 487.61
        [ ... 78 lines deleted ... ]
176475495.000048 4 514407.30 4830984.82 487.70
176475495.000048 34 514408.65 4830983.01 487.70
176475495.000048 21 514408.11 4830982.90 487.70
176475495.000068 13 514408.25 4830981.13 487.66
176475495.000068 92 514410.53 4830984.23 487.68
176475495.000068 44 514407.17 4830980.88 487.67
        [ ... 80 lines deleted ... ]
176475495.000068 76 514408.67 4830984.37 487.71
176475495.000068 47 514409.23 4830980.27 487.67
176475495.000068 87 514412.11 4830981.93 487.61
176475495.000088 97 514408.80 4830982.62 487.70
176475495.000088 33 514407.24 4830980.68 487.64
176475495.000088 30 514407.36 4830981.77 487.68
[ ... ]

Now we can “play back” the returns in acquisition order. We map returns from one group to the same color in lasview with the new ‘-bin_gps_time_into_point_source 0.00002’ option (that will be available in the next LAStools release). For a slower playback we add ‘-steps 5000’. Press the ‘c’ key to switch through the coloring options. Press the ‘s’ key repeatedly to incrementally show the points. To take a step back press <SHIFT>+’s’.

lasview -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_gps176475495_quarter_sorted.laz ^
        -bin_gps_time_into_point_source 0.00002 ^
        -scale_user_data 2.5 ^
        -steps 5000 ^
        -win 1024 384

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The last image colors the points by the values in the user data field (multiplied by 2.5), which essentially maps the beamlet IDs between 1 and 100 to a rainbow color ramp from blue to red. This tells us how the numbering of the beamlets from 1 to 100 corresponds to their layout in space. The next sequence of images takes a closer look at that.

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From a compression point of view it makes sense to (1) zero the meaningless scanner channel, (2) order the points by GPS time stamps to groups beamlet returns together, and (3) order the points with the same time stamp by the user data field. The compression gain is enormous with the 9 tiles going from over 3 GB to under 2 GB:

ORIGINAL:
337,156,981 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120300_LAS_2018.laz
331,801,150 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120310_LAS_2018.laz
358,928,274 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120320_LAS_2018.laz
328,597,628 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130300_LAS_2018.laz
355,997,013 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130310_LAS_2018.laz
360,403,079 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130320_LAS_2018.laz
355,399,781 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140300_LAS_2018.laz
354,523,659 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140310_LAS_2018.laz
357,248,968 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140320_LAS_2018.laz
  3,140,056,533 Bytes

IMPROVED:
197,641,087 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120300_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
194,750,096 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120310_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
210,013,408 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120320_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
190,687,275 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130300_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
206,447,730 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130310_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
209,580,551 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130320_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
205,827,197 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140300_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
203,808,113 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140310_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
206,789,959 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140320_LAS_2018_sorted.laz
  1,825,545,416 Bytes

Enumerating the 100 beamlets with a geometrically more coherent order would improve compression even more. Can anyone convince Leica to do this? The simple mapping of beamlet IDs shown below that arranges the beamlets into a zigzag order another huge compression gain of 15 percent. Altogether reordering and remapping lower the compressed file size by a whopping 50 percent.

Beamlet ID mapping table to improve spatial coherence.

168,876,666 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120300_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
165,241,508 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120310_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
176,524,959 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP120320_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
163,679,216 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130300_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
176,086,559 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130310_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
178,909,108 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP130320_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
174,735,634 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140300_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
171,679,105 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140310_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
174,997,090 USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_14TNP140320_LAS_2018_mapped_sorted.laz
  1,550,729,845 Bytes

Once this is done a final space-filling sort into a Hilbert-curve or a Morton-order with lassort or lasoptimize would improve spatial coherence for efficient spatial indexing with lasindex.

Oh yes … the SPL100 was not firing on all cylinders. The beamlet ID 53 that would have mapped to 61 in our table was not present in any of the 9 tiles with 355,047,478 points that we had downloaded as the lasinfo histogram below shows.

lasinfo -i USGS_LPC_SD_MORiver_Woolpert_B1_2016_*_2018.laz -merged -histo user_data 1
lasinfo (180911) report for 9 merged files
reporting all LAS header entries:
  file signature:             'LASF'
  file source ID:             0
  global_encoding:            17
  project ID GUID data 1-4:   194774FA-35FE-4591-D484-010AFA13F6D9
  version major.minor:        1.4
  system identifier:          'Woolpert LAS'
  generating software:        'GeoCue LAS Updater'
  file creation day/year:     332/2017
  header size:                375
  offset to point data:       1376
  number var. length records: 1
  point data format:          6
  point data record length:   30
  number of point records:    0
  number of points by return: 0 0 0 0 0
  scale factor x y z:         0.01 0.01 0.01
  offset x y z:               0 0 0
  min x y z:                  512000.00 4830000.00 286.43
  max x y z:                  514999.99 4832999.99 866.81
  start of waveform data packet record: 0
  start of first extended variable length record: 0
  number of extended_variable length records: 0
  extended number of point records: 355047478
  extended number of points by return: 298476060 52480771 3929583 157365 3699 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
variable length header record 1 of 1:
  reserved             0
  user ID              'LASF_Projection'
  record ID            2112
  length after header  943
  description          'OGC WKT Coordinate System'
    WKT OGC COORDINATE SYSTEM:
    COMPD_CS["NAD83(2011) / UTM zone 14N + NAVD88 height - Geoid12B (metre)",PROJCS["NAD83(2011) / UTM zone 14N",GEOGCS["NAD83(2011)",DATUM["NAD83_National_Spat
ial_Reference_System_2011",SPHEROID["GRS 1980",6378137,298.257222101,AUTHORITY["EPSG","7019"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","1116"]],PRIMEM["Greenwich",0,AUTHORITY["EPSG","
8901"]],UNIT["degree",0.0174532925199433,AUTHORITY["EPSG","9122"]],AUTHORITY["EPSG","6318"]],PROJECTION["Transverse_Mercator"],PARAMETER["latitude_of_origin",0]
,PARAMETER["central_meridian",-99],PARAMETER["scale_factor",0.9996],PARAMETER["false_easting",500000],PARAMETER["false_northing",0],UNIT["metre",1,AUTHORITY["EP
SG","9001"]],AXIS["Easting",EAST],AXIS["Northing",NORTH],AUTHORITY["EPSG","6343"]],VERT_CS["NAVD88 height - Geoid12B (metre)",VERT_DATUM["North American Vertica
l Datum 1988",2005,AUTHORITY["EPSG","5103"]],UNIT["metre",1,AUTHORITY["EPSG","9001"]],AXIS["Gravity-related height",UP],AUTHORITY["EPSG","5703"]]]
the header is followed by 4 user-defined bytes
LASzip compression (version 3.1r0 c3 50000): POINT14 3
reporting minimum and maximum for all LAS point record entries ...
  X            51200000   51499999
  Y           483000000  483299999
  Z               28643      86681
  intensity        3139      12341
  return_number       1          5
  number_of_returns   1          5
  edge_of_flight_line 0          0
  scan_direction_flag 0          1
  classification      1         10
  scan_angle_rank  -127        127
  user_data           1        100
  point_source_ID  1061       2005
  gps_time 176475467.194000 176496233.636563
  extended_return_number          1      5
  extended_number_of_returns      1      5
  extended_classification         1     10
  extended_scan_angle        -21167  21167
  extended_scanner_channel        0      3
number of first returns:        298476060
number of intermediate returns: 6282
number of last returns:         355000765
number of single returns:       298435629
overview over extended number of returns of given pulse: 298435629 52515017 3935373 157750 3709 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
histogram of classification of points:
       138382030  unclassified (1)
       207116732  ground (2)
         9233160  noise (7)
          310324  water (9)
            5232  rail (10)
 +-> flagged as withheld:  9233160
 +-> flagged as extended overlap: 226520346
user data histogram with bin size 1.000000
  bin 1 has 3448849
  bin 2 has 3468566
  bin 3 has 3721848
  bin 4 has 3376990
  bin 5 has 3757996
  bin 6 has 3479546
  bin 7 has 3799930
  bin 8 has 3766887
  bin 9 has 3448383
  bin 10 has 3966036
  bin 11 has 3232086
  bin 12 has 3686789
  bin 13 has 3763869
  bin 14 has 3847765
  bin 15 has 3659059
  bin 16 has 3666918
  bin 17 has 3427468
  bin 18 has 3375320
  bin 19 has 3222116
  bin 20 has 3598643
  bin 21 has 3108323
  bin 22 has 3553625
  bin 23 has 3782185
  bin 24 has 3577792
  bin 25 has 3063871
  bin 26 has 3451800
  bin 27 has 3518763
  bin 28 has 3845852
  bin 29 has 3366980
  bin 30 has 3797986
  bin 31 has 3623477
  bin 32 has 3606798
  bin 33 has 3762737
  bin 34 has 3861023
  bin 35 has 3821228
  bin 36 has 3738173
  bin 37 has 3902190
  bin 38 has 3726752
  bin 39 has 3910989
  bin 40 has 3771132
  bin 41 has 3718437
  bin 42 has 3609113
  bin 43 has 3339941
  bin 44 has 3003191
  bin 45 has 3697140
  bin 46 has 2329171
  bin 47 has 3398836
  bin 48 has 3511882
  bin 49 has 3719592
  bin 50 has 2995275
  bin 51 has 3673925
  bin 52 has 3535992
  bin 54 has 3799430
  bin 55 has 3613345
  bin 56 has 3761436
  bin 57 has 3296831
  bin 58 has 3810146
  bin 59 has 3768464
  bin 60 has 3520871
  bin 61 has 3833149
  bin 62 has 3639778
  bin 63 has 3623008
  bin 64 has 3581480
  bin 65 has 3663180
  bin 66 has 3661434
  bin 67 has 3684374
  bin 68 has 3723125
  bin 69 has 3552397
  bin 70 has 3554207
  bin 71 has 3535494
  bin 72 has 3621334
  bin 73 has 3633928
  bin 74 has 3631845
  bin 75 has 3526502
  bin 76 has 3605631
  bin 77 has 3452006
  bin 78 has 3796382
  bin 79 has 3731841
  bin 80 has 3683314
  bin 81 has 3806024
  bin 82 has 3749709
  bin 83 has 3808218
  bin 84 has 3634032
  bin 85 has 3631015
  bin 86 has 3712206
  bin 87 has 3627775
  bin 88 has 3674966
  bin 89 has 3231151
  bin 90 has 3780037
  bin 91 has 3621958
  bin 92 has 3623264
  bin 93 has 3853536
  bin 94 has 3623380
  bin 95 has 3418309
  bin 96 has 3374827
  bin 97 has 3464734
  bin 98 has 3562560
  bin 99 has 3078686
  bin 100 has 3426924

 

Estonia leads in Open LiDAR: nationwide & multi-temporal Point Clouds now Online

At the beginning of July 2018 the Baltic country of Estonia – with an area of 45 thousand square kilometers inhabited by around 1.3 million people – opened much of their geospatial data archives and is now offering easy and free download of LiDAR point clouds nationwide via a portal of the Estonian Land Board. What is even more exciting is that multi-temporal data sets flown in different years and seasons are available. Raw LiDAR point clouds collected either during a “regular flight in spring” or during a “forestry flight in summer” can be obtained for multiple years. The 1 km by 1 km tile with map sheet index 377650, for example, is available for four different LiDAR surveys carried out in spring 2011, summer 2013, spring 2015 and summer 2017. This offers incredible potential for studying temporal changes of man-made or natural environments. The screenshot sequence below shows how to navigate to the download site starting from this page.

We found out about this open data release during our hands-on workshop on LiDAR and photogrammetry point cloud processing with LAStools that was part of the UAV remote sensing summer school in Tartu, Estonia. See our calendar for upcoming events or contact us for holding a similar event at your university, agency, company, or conference. 

The LiDAR data provided on the download portal is compressed with LASzip and provided as 1km by 1km LiDAR tiles in LAZ format. You can search for these tiles via their Estonian 1:2000 map sheet indices. To find out which map sheet index corresponds to the tile you are interested in you can overlay the maps sheet indices over an online map. However, you will need to zoom in before you can see the indices as illustrated in the screenshot sequence below. Here a zoom to the map sheet indices for the area that we visited during the social event of the summer school.

One thing we noticed is that the tiles contain only a single layer of points. The overlaps between flightlines were removed which results in a more uniform point density but strips the user of the possibility to do their own flightline alignment checks with lasoverlap. Below you see the spring 2014 acquisition for the tile with map sheet index 475861 colored by classification, elevation, return type, flightline ID and intensity.

The license for the open data of the Estonian Land Board is very permissive and can be found here. Agreeing to the licence gives the licence holder the rights to use data free of charge for an unspecified term, to good purpose in accordance with law and best practice. Licence holder may produce derivatives of data, combine data with its own products or services, use data for commercial or non-commercial purposes and redistribute data. The licence holder obliges to refer to the origin of data when publishing and redistributing data. The reference must include the name of the licensor, the title of data, the age of data (or the date of data extraction).

Complete LiDAR Processing Pipeline: from raw Flightlines to final Products

This tutorial serves as an example for a complete end-to-end workflow that starts with raw LiDAR flightlines (as they may be delivered by a vendor) to final classified LiDAR tiles and derived products such as raster DTM, DSM, and SHP files with contours, building footprint and vegetation layers. The three example flightlines we are using here were flown in Ayutthaya, Thailand with a RIEGL LMS Q680i LiDAR scanner by Asian Aerospace Services who are based at the Don Mueang airport in Bangkok from where they are serving South-East-Asia and beyond. You can download them here:

Quality Checking

The minimal quality checks consist of generating textual reports (lasinfo & lasvalidate), inspecting the data visually (lasview), making sure alignment and overlap between flightlines fulfill expectations (lasoverlap), and measuring pulse density per square meter (lasgrid). Additional checks for points replication (lasduplicate), completeness of all returns per pulse (lasreturn), and validation against external ground control points (lascontrol) may also be performed.

lasinfo -i Ayutthaya\strips_raw\*.laz ^
        -cd ^
        -histo z 5 ^
        -histo intensity 64 ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\quality -odix _info -otxt ^
        -cores 3

lasvalidate -i Ayutthaya\strips_raw\*.laz ^
            -o Ayutthaya\quality\validate.xml

The lasinfo report generated with the command line shown computes the average density for each flightline and also generates two histograms, one for the z coordinate with a bin size of 5 meter and one for the intensity with a bin size of 64. The resulting textual descriptions are output into the specified quality folder with an appendix ‘_info’ added to the original file name. Perusing these reports tells you that there are up to 7 returns per pulse, that the average pulse density per flightline is between 7.1 to 7.9 shots per square meter, that the point source IDs of the points are already populated correctly, that there are isolated points far above and far below the scanned area, and that the intensity values range from 0 to 1023 with the majority being below 400. The warnings in the lasinfo and the lasvalidate reports about the presence of return numbers 6 and 7 have to do with the history of the LAS format and can safely be ignored.

lasoverlap -i Ayutthaya\strips_raw\*.laz ^
           -files_are_flightlines ^
           -min_diff 0.1 -max_diff 0.3 ^
           -odir Ayutthaya\quality -o overlap.png

This results in two color illustrations. One image shows the flightline overlap with blue indicating one flightline, turquoise indicating two, and yellow indicating three flightlines. Note that wet areas (rivers, lakes, rice paddies, …) without LiDAR returns affect this visualization. The other image shows how well overlapping flightlines align. Their vertical difference is color coded with while meaning less than 10 cm error while saturated red and blue indicate areas with more than 30 cm positive or negative difference.

One pixel wide red and blue along building edges and speckles of red and blue in vegetated areas are normal. We need to look-out for large systematic errors where terrain features or flightline outlines become visible. If you click yourself through this photo album you will eventually see typical examples (make sure to read the comments too). One area slightly below the center looks suspicious. We load the PNG into the GUI to pick this area for closer inspection with lasview.

lasview -i Ayutthaya\strips_raw\*.laz -gui

Why these flightline differences exist and whether they are detrimental to your purpose are questions that you will have to explore further. For out purpose this isolated difference was noted but will not prevent us from proceeding further. Next we want to investigate the pulse density. We do this with lasgrid. We know that the average last return density per flightline is between 7.1 to 7.9 shots per square meter. We set up the false color map for lasgrid such that it is blue when the last return density drops to 5 shots (or less) per square meter and such that it is red when the last return density reaches 10 shots (or more).

lasgrid -i Ayutthaya\strips_raw\*.laz -merged ^
        -keep_last ^
        -step 2 -density ^
        -false -set_min_max 4 8 ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\quality -o density_4ppm_8ppm.png

The last return density per square meter mapped to a color: blue is 5 or less, red is 10 or more.

The last return density image clearly shows how the density increases to over 10 pulses per square meter in all areas of flightline overlap. However, as there are large parts covered by only one flightline their density is the one that should be considered. We note great variations in density along the flightlines. Those have to do with aircraft movement and in particular with the pitch. When the nose of the plane goes up even slightly, the gigantic “fan of laser pulses” (that can be thought of as being rigidly attached at the bottom perpendicular to the aircraft flight direction) is moving faster forward on the ground far below and therefore covers it with fewer shots per square meter. Conversely when the nose of the plane goes down the spacing between scan lines far below the plane are condensed so that the density increases. Inclement weather and the resulting airplane pitch turbulence can have a big impact on how regular the laser pulse spacing is on the ground. Read this article for more on LiDAR pulse density and spacing.

LiDAR Preparation

When you have airborne LiDAR in flightlines the first step is to tile the data into square tiles that are typically 1000 by 1000 or – for higher density surveys – 500 by 500 meters in size. This can be done with lastile. We also add a buffer of 30 meters to each tile. Why buffers are important for tile-based processing is explained here. We choose 30 meters as this is larger than any building we expect in this area and slightly larger than the ‘-step’ size we use later when classifying the points into ground and non-ground points with lasground.

lastile -i Ayutthaya\strips_raw\*.laz ^
        -tile_size 500 -buffer 30 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_raw -o ayu.laz

NOTE: Usually you will have to add ‘-files_are_flightlines’ or ‘-apply_file_source_ID’ to the lastile command shown above in order to preserve the information which points is from which flightline. We do not have to do this here as evident from the lasinfo reports we generated earlier. Not only is the file source ID in the LAS header is correctly set to 2, 3, or 4 reflecting the intended flightline numbering evident from the file names. Also the point source ID of each point is already set to the correct value 2, 3, or 4. For more info see this or this discussion from the LAStools user forum.

Next we classify isolated points that are far from most other points with lasnoise into the (default) classification code 7. See the README file for the meaning of the parameters and play around with different setting to get a feel for how to make this process more or less aggressive.

lasnoise -i Ayutthaya\tiles_raw\ayu*.laz ^
         -step_xy 4 -step_z 2 -isolated 5 ^
         -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_denoised -olaz ^
         -cores 4

Especially for ground classification it is important that low noise points are excluded. You should inspect a number of tiles with lasview to make sure the low noise are all pink now if you color them by classification.

lasview -i Ayutthaya\tiles_denoised\ayu*.laz -gui

While the algorithms in lasground are designed to withstand a few noise points below the ground, you will find that it will include them into the ground model if there are too many of them. Hence, it is important to tell lasground to ignore these noise points. For the other parameters used see the README file of lasground.

lasground -i Ayutthaya\tiles_denoised\ayu*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 7 ^
          -city -ultra_fine ^
          -compute_height ^
          -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_ground -olaz ^
          -cores 4

You should visually check the resulting ground classification of each tile with lasview by selecting smaller subsets (press ‘x’, draw a rectangle, press ‘x’ again, use arrow keys to walk) and then switch back and forth between a triangulation of the ground points (press ‘g’ and then press ‘t’) and a triangulation of last returns (press ‘l’ and then press ‘t’). See the README of lasview for more information on those hotkeys.

lasview -i Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu*.laz -gui

This way I found at least one tile that should be reclassified with ‘-metro’ instead of ‘-city’ because it still contained one large building in the ground classification. Alternatively you can correct miss-classifications manually using lasview as shown in the next few screen shots.

This is an optional step for advanced users who have a license. In case you managed to do such a manual edit and saved it as a LAY file using LASlayers (see the README file of lasview) you can overwrite the old file with:

laslayers -i Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu_669500_1586500.laz -ilay ^
          -o Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu_669500_1586500_edited.laz

move Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu_669500_1586500_edit.laz ^
     Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu_669500_1586500.laz

The next step classifies those points that are neither ground (2) nor noise (7) into building (or rather roof) points (class 6) and high vegetation points (class 5). For this we use lasclassify with the default parameters that only considers points that are at least 2 meters above the classified ground points (see the README for details on all available parameters).

lasclassify -i Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu*.laz ^
            -ignore_class 7 ^
            -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_classified -olaz ^
            -cores 4

We  check the classification of each tile with lasview by selecting smaller subsets (press ‘x’, draw a rectangle, press ‘x’ again) and by traversing with the arrow keys though the point cloud. You will find a number of miss-classifications. Boats are classified as buildings, water towers or complex temple roofs as vegetation, … and so on. You could use lasview to manually correct any classifications that are really important.

lasview -i Ayutthaya\tiles_classified\ayu*.laz -gui

Before delivering the classified LiDAR tiles to a customer or another user it is imperative to remove the buffers that were carried through all computations to avoid artifacts along the tile boundary. This can also be done with lastile.

lastile -i Ayutthaya\tiles_classified\ayu*.laz ^
        -remove_buffer ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_final -olaz ^
        -cores 4

Together with the tiling you may want to deliver a tile overview file in KML format (or in SHP format) that you can easily generate with lasboundary using this command line:

lasboundary -i Ayutthaya\tiles_final\ayu*.laz ^
            -use_bb ^
            -overview -labels ^
            -o Ayutthaya\tiles_overview.kml

The small KML file generated b lasboundary provides a quick overview where tiles are located, their names, their bounding box, and the number of points they contain.

Derivative production

The most common derivative product produced from LiDAR data is a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) in form of an elevation raster. This can be obtained by interpolating the ground points with a triangulation (i.e. a Delaunay TIN) and by sampling the TIN at the center of each raster cell. The pulse density of well over 4 shots per square meter definitely supports a resolution of 0.5 meter for the raster DTM. From the ground-classified tiles with buffer we compute the DTM using las2dem as follows:

las2dem -i Ayutthaya\tiles_ground\ayu*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 0.5 -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_dtm -obil ^
        -cores 4

It’s important to add ‘-use_tile_bb’ to the command line which limits the raster generation to the original tile sizes of 500 by 500 meters in order not to rasterize the buffers that are extending the tiles 30 meters in each direction. We used the BIL format so that we inspect the resulting elevation rasters with lasview:

lasview -i Ayutthaya\tiles_dtm\ayu*.bil -gui

To create a hillshaded version of the DTM you can use your favorite raster processing package such as GDAL or GRASS but you could also use the BLAST extension of LAStools and create a large seamless image with blast2dem as follows:

blast2dem -i Ayutthaya\tiles_dtm\ayu*.bil -merged ^
          -step 0.5 -hillshade -epsg 32647 ^
          -o Ayutthaya\dtm_hillshade.png

Because blast2dem does not parse the PRJ files that accompany the BIL rasters we have to specify the EPSG code explicitly to also get a KML file that allows us to visualize the LiDAR in Google Earth.

A a hillshading of the merged DTM rasters produced with blast2dem.

Next we generate a Digital Surface Model (DSM) that includes the highest objects that the laser has hit. We use the spike-free algorithm that is implemented in las2dem that creates a triangulation of the highest returns as follows:

las2dem -i Ayutthaya\tiles_denoised\ayu*.laz ^
        -drop_class 7 ^
        -step 0.5 -spike_free 1.2 -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_dsm -obil ^
        -cores 4

We used 1.0 as the freeze value for the spike free algorithm because this is about three times the average last return spacing reported in the individual lasinfo reports generated during quality checking. Again we inspect the resulting rasters with lasview:

lasview -i Ayutthaya\tiles_dsm\ayu*.bil -gui

For reason of comparison we also generate the DSM rasters using a simple first-return interpolation again with las2dem as follows:

las2dem -i Ayutthaya\tiles_denoised\ayu*.laz ^
        -drop_class 7 -keep_first ^
        -step 0.5 -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_dsm -obil ^
        -cores 4

A few direct side-by-side comparison between a spike-free DSM and a first-return DSM shows the difference that are especially noticeable along building edges and in large trees.

Another product that we can easily create are building footprints from the automatically classified roofs using lasboundary. Because the tool is quite scalable we can simply on-the-fly merge the final tiles. This also avoids including duplicate points from the tile buffer whose classifications are also often less accurate.

lasboundary -i Ayutthaya\tiles_final\ayu*.laz -merged ^
            -keep_class 6 ^
            -disjoint -concavity 1.1 ^
            -o Ayutthaya\buildings.shp

Similarly we can use lasboundary to create a vegetation layer from those points that were automatically classified as high vegetation.

lasboundary -i Ayutthaya\tiles_final\ayu*.laz -merged ^
             -keep_class 5 ^
             -disjoint -concavity 3 ^
             -o Ayutthaya\vegetation.shp

We can also produce 1.0 meter contour lines from the ground classified points. However, for nicer contours it is beneficial to first generate a subset of the ground points with lasthin using option ‘-contours 1.0’ as follows:

lasthin -i Ayutthaya\tiles_final\ayu*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 1.0 -contours 1.0 ^
        -odir Ayutthaya\tiles_temp -olaz ^
        -cores 4

We then merge all subsets of ground points from those temporary tiles on-the-fly into one (using the ‘-merged’ option) and let blast2iso from the BLAST extension of LAStools generate smoothed and simplified 1 meter contours as follows:

blast2iso -i Ayutthaya\tiles_temp\ayu*.laz -merged ^
          -iso_every 1.0 ^
          -smooth 2 -simplify_length 0.5 -simplify_area 0.5 -clean 5.0 ^
          -o Ayutthaya\contours_1m.shp

Finally we composite all of our derived LiDAR products into one map using QGIS and then fuse it with data from OpenStreetMap that we’ve downloaded from BBBike. Here you can download the OSM data that we use.

It’s in particular interesting to compare the building footprints that were automatically derived from our LiDAR processing pipeline with those mapped by OpenStreetMap volunteers. We immediately see that there is a lot of volunteering work left to do and the LiDAR-derived data can assist us in directing those mapping efforts. A closer look reveals the (expected) quality difference between hand-mapped and auto-generated data.

The OSM buildings are simpler. These polygons are drawn and divided into logical units by a human. They are individually verified and correspond to actual buildings. However, they are less aligned with the Google Earth satellite image. The LiDAR-derived buildings footprints are complex because lasboundary has no logic to simplify the complicated polygonal chains that enclose the points that were automatically classified as roof into rectilinear shapes or to break directly adjacent roof points into separate logical units. However, most buildings are found (but also objects that are not buildings) and their geospatial alignment is as good as that of the LiDAR data.