clone wars and drone fights

NEWSFLASH: update on Feb 5th and 6th and 17th (see end of article)

The year 2014 shapes to be a fun one in which the LiDAR community will see some major laser battles. (-: First, ESRI starts a “lazer clone war” with the open source community saddening your very own LAS clown here at rapidlasso with a proprietary LAZ clone. Then AHAB and Optech start to squirmish over the true penetration depth of their bathymetric systems in various forums. And now RIEGL – just having launched their Q1560 “crossfire” for battling Leica and Optech in the higher skies – is heading into an all-out “laser drone war” with FARO and Velodyne over arming UAVs and gyrocopters with lasers by rolling out their new (leaked?) RIEGL VUX-1 scanner … (-;

Some specs below, but no details yet on power-consumption.

  • about 3.85 kilograms
  • 225mm x 180mm x 125mm
  • survey-grade accuracy of 25mm
  • echo signal digitisation
  • online waveform processing
  • measurement rate up to 500 kHz
  • field of view 300 degrees
  • internal 360 GB SSD storage or real-time data via LAN-TCP/IP
  • collects data at altitudes or ranges of more than 1,000 ft
  • will be on display during ILMF 2014 (Feb 17-19, Denver, USA)
The new RIEGL VUX-1 laser scanner for UAVs ...

The new RIEGL VUX-1 laser scanner for UAVs

Below a proof-of-concept concept video by Phoenix Aerial on how such a system (here based on a Velodyne HDL-32E scanner) may look and operate.

A similar system introduced by Airbotix is shown below.

Aibot X6 with laser scanner from Velodyne HDL-32E

Aibot X6 with laser scanner from Velodyne HDL-32E

But before trusting these kind of drones with your expensive hardware you should make plenty of test flights with heavy payloads. Here a suggestion to make this more fun:

UPDATE (February 5th): It is reported by SPAR Point Group that the RIEGL VUX-1 LiDAR scanner for drones is to be shown at International LiDAR Mapping Forum in Denver later this month. Given the ceremony that the Q1560 “crossfire” was introduced with, it surely seems as if Geospatial World Magazine spilled the news early …

UPDATE (February 6th): RIEGL officially press-released the VUX-1 LiDAR. Its weight is below 4kg and its range up to 1000 ft …

UPDATE (February 17th): Today the new VUX-1 finally made it’s much anticipated world-premiere during ILMF 2014 in Denver. For more images of the official unveiling see RIEGL’s blog.

The VUX-1 LiDAR scanner for UAVs unveiled at ILMF 2014.

The VUX-1 LiDAR scanner for UAVs unveiled at ILMF 2014.

online Web viewer for LiDAR

Nifty! Am online Web viewer for LiDAR data in LAS or ASCII format that can load files from your local drive. Very handy in case you need to inspect or show off a LAS file but do not have any LiDAR viewer installed on your computer – especially in case it should run cross-platform in any browser (does it?). But no LAZ support yet … (-;

Below you see a screenshot of me testing the viewer after loading rapidlasso‘s decompressed “fusa.las” data set that is part of the LAStools distribution. Try it for yourself at this site: http://lidarview.com/ … who is behind this?

lidarview displaying the "decompressed "fusa.las" model that is part of the LAStools distribution

lidarview displaying the “decompressed “fusa.las” model that is part of the LAStools distribution

rapidlasso selects LIDAR Technology Co. as first LAStools reseller

PRESS RELEASE
October 7, 2013
rapidlasso GmbH, Gilching, Germany

Just in time for INTERGEO 2013, the creators of LAStools and LASzip have partnered with LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd. of Zhubei City, Taiwan as their first exclusive reseller for the Taiwanese market. The two companies decided to strengthen their ties after holding a successful LiDAR processing workshop together with over 60 attendees following the International Symposium on Mobile Mapping Technologies (MMT 2013) in Tainan City last May. “We were looking for a partner with a strong technical mindset who is committed to capacity building,” says Dr. Martin Isenburg, founder of rapidlasso GmbH, “and LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd. is investing in R&D – including full waveform LiDAR – and has strong ties to academia. We couldn’t have found a better collaborator.” Dr. “James” Jin-King Liu, the CEO of LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd. concurs “our companies are a great match. LAStools is already widely popular in Taiwan, yet to employ them to their fullest potential can require some guidance. Our company has the technical expertise to provide this kind of support locally.”

About rapidlasso GmbH:

Technology start-up rapidlasso GmbH specializes in efficient LiDAR processing tools that are widely known for their high productivity. They combine robust algorithms with efficient I/O and clever memory management to achieve high throughput for data sets containing billions of points. The company’s flagship product – the LAStools software suite – has deep market penetration and is heavily used in industry, government agencies, research labs, and educational institutions. Visit http://rapidlasso.com for more information.

About LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd.:

LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd. was founded in 2010 out of the airborne LiDAR team of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a National Laboratory in Taiwan. Their primary business is research, development, and application of earth observation, geoinformatics, and location-based services. LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd. performs acquisition, handling, and analysis of space-borne and airborne data with a focus on LiDAR, including full waveform, for which the company has developed own specialized solutions for their customers. Types of applications include mineral resources, geological mapping, geo-hazards studies, land-use and land-cover mapping, coastal zone mapping, forestry mapping, …  visit http://www.lidar.com.tw for more information.

With CEO "James" Jin-King Liu and CFO Ian Hsu in front of the office of LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd.

With CEO “James” Jin-King Liu and General Manager Ian Hsu in front of the office of LIDAR Technology Co., Ltd.

rapidlasso adds LAStools LiDAR processing toolbox to QGIS

PRESS RELEASE
September 30, 2013
rapidlasso GmbH, Gilching, Germany

At the code sprint following the FOSS4G 2013 conference, rapidlasso GmbH completed a toolbox that exposes the extensive LiDAR processing capabilities of the LAStools software suite within QGIS. QGIS (previously known as “Quantum GIS”) is a comprehensive desktop geographic information system that is free and open source software (FOSS). QGIS has seen rapid growth in acceptance as a viable and cost-effective alternative to the commerical ArcGIS products of ESRI. The newly integrated “Processing” framework (previously known as “SEXTANTE“) allows to combine the LiDAR functionality of LAStools with native raster and vector operations of QGIS as well as capabilities of other popular GIS packages such as GDALGRASS, SAGA, TauDEM, PostGIS and the (geo-)statistics package R. Detailed instructions on how to add the new LAStools toolbox to QGIS are available here.

About rapidlasso GmbH:
Technology start-up rapidlasso GmbH specializes in efficient LiDAR processing tools that are widely known for their high productivity. They combine robust algorithms with efficient I/O and clever memory management to achieve high throughput for data sets containing billions of points. The company’s flagship product – the LAStools software suite – has deep market penetration and is heavily used in industry, government agencies, research labs, and educational institutions. Visit http://rapidlasso.com for more information.

how to install LAStools toolbox in QGIS

The more complex installation instructions are only relevant for older QGIS versions. Starting with QGIS 2.10 or newer you can skip directly to step 4 and disregard most of step 6:

We had an ArcGIS LiDAR processing toolbox since April 2012 and now we have one for QGIS as well. It has been tested successfully with QGIS 1.8.0-Lisboa, 2.0.1-Dufour, 2.2.0-Valmiera, and 2.4.0-Chugiak. Download and install QGIS. For version 2.2.0-Valmiera and older follow all the steps. Do not delete or copy any files for the newest version 2.4.0-Chugiak but skip directly to step 4 and disregard most of step 6:

  1. If you already started QGIS then exit the application.
  2. Delete (or rename) the entire folder “C:\Program Files\QGIS Valmiera\apps\qgis\python\plugins\processing\lidar”.
    QGIS install (step 1)
  3. Put the “.\lidar” folder that is inside this ZIP file into its place. This ZIP file only works for QGIS 2.2.0-Valmiera. For QGIS 2.0.1-Dufour you need to use the contents of this ZIP file instead. And for QGIS 1.8.0-Lisboa use this ZIP file and delete the folder “C:\Users\Martin\.qgis\python\plugins\sextante\lidar” instead.
  4. Get the most recent version of LAStools by downloading the 36 MB “LAStools.zip” file.
  5. Drag and drop (or extract) the “.\LAStools” folder from inside the ‘LAStools.zip‘ file such that there is no space in the path (e.g. bad: “C:\Program Files\LAStools”, good: “D:\software\LAStools”).
  6. Start QGIS. If there is a Python script error carefully repeat steps 1 to 3.
  7. Turn on the “Processing Toolbox” as shown below.
    turning on the "Processing Toolbox"
  8. Switch the processing toolbox from “Simplified Interface” to “Advanced Interface” as shown below.
    Switching the processing toolbox from "Simplified Interface" to "Advanced Interface"
  9. Open the “Options and configuration” sub menu of “Processing” as shown below.
    Opening the "Options and configuration" sub menu of "Processing"
  10. Check the “Activate” button for “Providers->Tools for LiDAR data” and fill in the path to your local LAStools folder as shown below. Type or copy & paste the path to LAStools (as the browse popup is broken). Press <strong>ENTER</strong> after entering the path so the field is greyed out again <em>before</em> clicking <strong>OK</strong>.
    Checking the "Activate" button for "Providers->Tools for LiDAR data" and filling in the path to the local LAStools folder.
  11. Now you should see the “Tools for LiDAR data” in the toolbox and all the LAStools as shown below.
    Seeing the "Tools for LiDAR data" in the toolbox and all the LAStools
  12. Start lasground via double click and fill in the settings as shown below.
    Starting lasground via double click and filling in the settings
  13. Look at the file you just created by running lasview from the toolbox. Yay!
  14. Create this with two quick calls to las2dem and las2iso … sooo easy.
    Result after running las2dem and las2iso on fusa.laz sample

Kudos to Victor Olaya for creating this whole framework and providing me with example scripts for a simple LAStools toolbox that I just had to modify … (-:

Exhibiting at LiDAR Technologies 2013

PRESS RELEASE
August 22, 2013
rapidlasso GmbH, Gilching, Germany

This week rapidlasso GmbH is exhibiting its LAStools LiDAR processing software in tropical Cairns (Australia) at the LiDAR Technologies 2013 conference that is emerging as the premier LiDAR event in Australia. This marks the first time that rapidlasso is acting as a sponsor with its own exhibition booth on the showfloor. During the technical program rapidlasso is providing an update on the recently released PulseWaves open data exchange format for storing full waveform LiDAR data. The PulseWaves DLL is now fully integrated into the RASP software of Airborne Research Australia (ARA) at Flinders University in Adelaide and full waveform data is showcased that was recently acquired by ARA as part of a TERN AUScover campaign.

About rapidlasso GmbH:
Technology start-up rapidlasso GmbH specializes in efficient LiDAR processing tools that are widely known for their high productivity. They combine robust algorithms with efficient I/O and clever memory management to achieve high throughput for data sets containing billions of points. The company’s flagship product – the LAStools software suite – has deep market penetration and is heavily used in industry, government agencies, research labs, and educational institutions. Visit http://rapidlasso.com for more information.

Toby Clewett Senior Geospatial Analyst at Sunshine Coast Regional Council

Having a laugh with Toby Clewett (Senior Geospatial Analyst at Sunshine Coast Regional Council) and Anne Henderson (catchement modeler and spatial analyst CSIRO Land and Water) at the rapidlasso booth

new scanner cross examines terrain

It seems Leica and Optech may have come a bit under “crossfire” (-: by the other big news (besides adding PulseWaves support to RiPROCESS) at the RIEGL LiDAR 2013 user conference in Vienna, namely the unveiling of the new LMS-Q1560 airborne laser scanner. Below you see the management team doing the ceremonial act.Image

The specification looks great and will especially make those happy looking for dense surveys in complex terrain or for more LiDAR returns from building facades in urban environments. By employing two units that “crossfire” at a particular angle while one unit looks forward and one backward, the combined system can provide a better point spacing on the ground and a better point coverage on vertical surfaces.

The new system combines two LMS-Q780 units each firing at rates of up 400 kHz via a shared rotating mirror in the center. The scan lines of the two laser-beam-emitting units are not perpendicular to the flight direction but angled at +12 and -12 degrees (actual number may be different) in the x-y plane to assure that they independently and consistently sample the covered terrain – unaffected from flying height or aircraft speed. Furthermore, the two fanning sheets of laser pulses are angled at +7 and -7 degrees (actual number may be different) in flight direction, meaning that one unit is forward-looking and the other backward-looking. This increases the likelihood that the sides of buildings are scanned as well. Colloquially put, those back-facing facades perpendicular to the flight direction that are not seen by the first round of laser pulses from the forward-looking unit will be hit by the second round of laser pulses from the  backward-looking unit and vice-versa. The above details may not be 100% correct but are what I (wrongly?) remember from the technical presentation that Dr. Ullrich gave (see below).

Image

The overall ability to sample so rapidly is realized by combining the “crossfire” that I have just described with the “rapidfire” of the earlier Q780 units. Each unit is able to operate with up to 10 pulses simultaneously in the air by subsequently resolving ambiguities off-line with the multiple-time-around (MTA) processing technique introduced for earlier models (see the product descriptions for the Q680i or the Q780 for more on that topic).

Hence, this new scanner with “crossfire technology” promises to give your terrain a dense cross examination … and yes, it is a full waveform scanner. (-:

Release of PulseWaves Full Waveform LiDAR Format

PRESS RELEASE
June 21, 2013
rapidlasso GmbH, Gilching, Germany

Just in time for the RIEGL LiDAR 2013 user conference, technology start-up rapidlasso GmbH has released an open data exchange format called “PulseWaves” for storing full waveform LiDAR data. The new format has been in development since December 2011 through transparent discussions at http://pulsewaves.org that involved many stake holders. The result is a specification simple to implement, yet versatile enough to store many different waveform flavors. PulseWaves standardizes storage and delivery for applications that benefit from information about the waveform such as forest management, biomass estimation, and LiDAR bathymetry. It complements the ASPRS LAS format for discrete returns and radically simplifies the exchange of full outgoing and returning waveforms.

The initial PulseWaves release comes with an open source reference implementation (LGPL) and a set of basic processing tools to display and convert the data. A compressed version of the PulseWaves format based on LASzip technology is in progress. With their latest release of their RiPROCESS software, RIEGL GmbH has become the first hardware vendor to allow exporting full waveform LiDAR data to the PulseWaves format. The development effort was in parts supported by RIEGL GmbH and by Airborne Research Australia (ARA) at Flinders University in Adelaide.

About rapidlasso GmbH:
Technology start-up rapidlasso GmbH specializes in efficient LiDAR processing tools that are widely known for their high productivity. They combine robust algorithms with efficient I/O and clever memory management to achieve high throughput for data sets containing billions of points. The company’s flagship product – the LAStools software suite – has deep market penetration and is heavily used in industry, government agencies, research labs, and educational institutions. Visit http://rapidlasso.com for more information.

An illustrative visualization of full waveform data as rendered by the latest version of pulseview.exe.

An illustrative visualization of full waveform data as rendered by the latest version of pulseview.exe.

sneak peak at PulseWaves

PulseWaves is a new exchange format for full waveform LiDAR data. Below you see a simple visualization of a small sample of full waveform LiDAR data exported from RIEGL’s RiProcess to the PulseWaves format via a prototype of the PulseWaves DLL interface.

sneak peak at PulseWaves full waveform LiDAR format

Illustrated in 3D are the waveforms of 50 pulses via a green to red shading of their intensity. Plotted in more detail in 2D from left to right are the waveforms of a single pulse that is in the very center of these 50 pulses. The outgoing waveform is red. The returning waveform – in this case consisting of two segments – is blue.

The 3D points (here mostly yellow apart from a few orange and blue ones) correspond to the first recorded waveform sample of each pulse. Through them a particular pulse (or a set of pulses) can be picked by pressing the ‘i’ hot key in the interactive 3D viewer – pulseview.exe – when hovering over a point. The color coding of these points indicates that different pulse descriptors are used for describing the waveforms of the corresponding pulse. For more details go to the discussion forum at http://pulsewaves.org/ where you find links to the specification, the tools, and some sample data.

LASindex – spatial indexing of LiDAR data

Salzburg is a beautiful city in December. The European LiDAR Mapping Forum coincided with the days when the “Krampus” (= “Christmas monsters”) are roaming the Christmas markets in the old town to scare children and adults alike. One gave me a painful whipping in the legs with its leathery tail when I tried to protect a LAStools user … (-;

More to the point, here is my talk at ELMF 2012 on “LASindex – simple spatial indexing of LiDAR data”. I first give a little update on LASzip, then talk about spatial indexing with LAX, before sneak-previewing PulseWaves – our new and open LiDAR format for storing full waveform data.

Some more detail:
Airborne LiDAR surveys collect large amounts of elevations samples, often resulting in Terabytes of data. The acquired LiDAR points are typically stored and distributed in the LAS format or – its lossless compressed twin – the LAZ format. However, managing a folder of LAS or LAZ files is not a trivial task when a survey consists, for example, of 500 flight strips containing around 200 million points each. Even a simple area-of-interest (AOI) query requires opening all files and loading all those whose bounding box overlaps the queried AOI. One solution is to copy the survey into a dedicated data base such as Oracle Spatial or PostgreSQL. We present a much simpler alternative that works directly on the original LAS or LAZ files.

Our minimal-effort spatial indexing scheme has very small setup costs, avoids creating a second copy of the data, and is already in use in the LAStools software suite. For each LiDAR file we generate a tiny LAX file that resides in the same folder as the *.las or *.laz file and has the same name but with a *.lax extension. The LAX files are generally as small as 0.01 percent (for a LAS file) or 0.1 percent (for a LAZ file) of the file containing the LiDAR data and they can be generated as fast as the points can be read off disk.

The LAX files describe an adaptive quadtree over the x and y coordinates of all points. Each occupied quadtree cell stores a list of point index intervals that together reference all points falling into this cell. By merging all intervals of a cell that are less than 1000 apart in point index space we significantly reduce the number of intervals, the size of the LAX files, and the number of file seek operations.

Although individual cells typically reference too many points this is usually amortized as a typical AOI query will require returning a union of all intervals from many quadtree cells. However, our in-place spatial indexing relies on a certain degree of spatial coherency to be present in the point order. A simple measure of the efficiency of the existing order is to calculate the overhead factor when loading each quadtree cell individually from disk.

The source code for LASindex is part of the open source library LASlib of LAStools. It has been extensively field-tested in the LiDAR delivery pipeline of Open Topography (OT) where it is used to efficiently gather data from folders of LAZ files in accordance to area-of-interest queries that are generated by users via OT’s popular web-based LiDAR download interface. Another important use is on-the-fly point buffering. When batch processing, for example, 2km by 2km LiDAR tiles to create DTMs via rasterization of a temporary TIN, it is beneficial to load a 100 meter point buffer around each tile to avoid tile boundary artifacts. The presence of LAX files allows doing so efficiently on-the-fly.