Generating DTM for “fluffy” Livox MID-40 LiDAR via “median ground” points

In the last article about the Livox MID-40 LiDAR scan of Samara we quality checked the data, aligned the flight lines and cleaned the remaining spurious scan lines. In this article we will process this data into the standard products. A focus will be on generating a smooth “median ground” surface from the “fluffy” scanner data. You can get the flight lines here and follow along with the processing after downloading LAStools. Below is one result of this work.

The first processing step will be to tile the strips into tiles that contain fewer points for faster and also parallel processing. One quick “flat terrain” trick first. Often there are spurious points that are far above or below the terrain. For a relatively flat area these can be easily be identified by computing a histogram elevation values with lasinfo and then eliminated with simple drop-filters on the z coordinate.

lasinfo ^
-i Samara\Livox\03_strips_cleaned\*.laz ^
-merged ^
-histo z 1 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\01_quality ^
-o strips_cleaned_merged_info.txt

The relevant excerpts of the output of the lasinfo report are shown below:

z coordinate histogram with bin size 1.000000
bin -104 has 1
bin 5 has 1

bin 11 has 273762
bin 12 has 1387999
bin 13 has 5598767
bin 14 has 36100225
bin 15 has 53521371
bin 59 has 60308
bin 60 has 26313
bin 61 has 284
bin 65 has 10
bin 66 has 31
bin 67 has 12
bin 68 has 1
bin 83 has 3
bin 84 has 4
bin 93 has 31
bin 94 has 93
bin 95 has 17


The few points below 11 meters and above 61 meters in elevation can be considered spurious. In the initial tiling step with lastile we add simple elevation filters to drop those points on-the-fly from the buffered tiles. The importance of buffers when processing LiDAR in tiles is discussed in this article. With lastile we create tiles of size 125 meters with a buffer of 20 meters, while removing the points identified as spurious with the appropriate filters. Because the input strips have their “file source ID” in the LAS header correctly set, we use ‘-apply_file_source_ID’ to set the “point source ID” of every point to this value. This preserves the information of which point comes from which flight line.

lastile ^
-i Samara\Livox\03_strips_cleaned\*.laz ^
-drop_z_below 11 -drop_z_above 61 ^
-apply_file_source_ID ^
-tile_size 125 -buffer 20 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\05_tiles_buffered -o desman.laz

This produces 49 buffered tiles that will now be processed similarly to the workflow outlined for another lower-priced system that generates similarly “fluffy” point clouds on hard surfaces, the Velodyne HLD-32E, described here and here. What do we mean with “fluffy”? We cut out a 1 meter slice across the road with the new ‘-keep_profile’ filter and las2las and inspect it with lasview.

las2las ^
-i Samara\Livox\05_tiles_buffered\desman_331750_1093000.laz ^
-keep_profile 331790 1093071 331799 1093062 1 ^
-o slice.laz

lasview ^
-i slice.laz ^
-color_by_flightline ^
-kamera 0 274.922 43.7695 0.00195313 -0.0247396 1.94022 ^
-point_size 9

In the view below we pressed hot key twice ‘]’ to exaggerate the z scale. The “fuzziness” is that thickness of the point cloud in the middle of this flat tar road. It is around 20 to 25 centimeters and is equally evident in both flight lines. What is the correct ground surface through this 20 to 25 centimeter “thick” road? We will compute a “mean ground” that roughly falls into the middle of this “fluffy” surface,

slice of 1 meter width across the tar road in front of Omael store

The next three lasthin runs mark a sub set of low candidate points for our lasground filtering. In every 25 cm by 25 cm, every 33 cm by 33 cm and every 50 cm by 50 cm area we reclassify the point closest to the 10th percentile as class 8. In the first call to lasthin we put all other points into class 1.

lasthin ^
-i Samara\Livox\05_tiles_buffered\desman_*.laz ^
-set_classification 1 ^
-step 0.25 -percentile 10 20 -classify_as 8 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\06_tiles_thinned_01 -olaz ^
-cores 4

lasthin ^
-i Samara\Livox\06_tiles_thinned_01\desman_*.laz ^
-step 0.3333 -percentile 10 20 -classify_as 8 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\06_tiles_thinned_02 -olaz ^
-cores 4

lasthin ^
-i Samara\Livox\06_tiles_thinned_02\desman_*.laz ^
-step 0.5 -percentile 10 20 -classify_as 8 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\06_tiles_thinned_03 -olaz ^
-cores 4

Below you can see the resulting points of the 10th percentile classified as class 8 in red.

Operating only on the points classified as 8 (i.e. ignoring those classified as 1) we then run a ground classification with lasground using the following command line, which creates a “low ground” classification. .

lasground ^
-i Samara\Livox\06_tiles_thinned_03\desman_*.laz ^
-ignore_class 1 ^
-town -ultra_fine ^
-ground_class 2 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_low -olaz ^
-cores 4

Since this is an open road this classifies most of the red points as ground points.

Using lasheight we then create a “thick ground” by pulling all those points into the ground surface that are between 5 centimeter below and 17 centimeter above the “low ground”. For visualization purposes we temporarily use class 6 to capture this thickened ground.

lasheight ^
-i Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_low\desman_*.laz ^
-classify_between -0.05 0.17 6 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_thick -olaz ^
-cores 4

The “thick ground” is shown below in orange.

We go back to lasthin and reclassify in every 50 cm by 50 cm area the point closest to the 50th percentile as class 8. This is what we call the “median ground”.

lasthin ^
-i Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_thick\desman_*.laz ^
-ignore_class 1 ^
-step 0.5 -percentile 50 -classify_as 8 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_median -olaz ^
-cores 4

The final “median ground” points are shown in red below. These are the points we will use to eventually compute the DTM.

We complete the fully automated classification available in LAStools by running lasclassify with the following options. See the README file for what these options mean. Note that we move the “thick ground” from the temporary class 6 to the proper class 2. The “median ground” continues to be in class 8.

lasclassify ^
-i Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_median\desman_*.laz ^
-change_classification_from_to 6 2
-rugged 0.3 -ground_offset 1.5 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\08_tiles_classified -olaz ^
-cores 4

Before the resulting tiles are published or shared with others we should remove the temporary buffers, which is done with lastile – the same tool that created the buffers.

lastile ^
-i Samara\Livox\08_tiles_classified\desman_*.laz ^
-remove_buffer ^
-odir Samara\Livox\09_tiles_final -olaz ^
-cores 4

And then we can publish the points via a Potree 3D Webportal using laspublish.

laspublish ^
-i Samara\Livox\09_tiles_final\desman_*.laz ^
-elevation ^
-title "Samara Mangroves" ^
-odir Samara\Livox\99_portal -o SamaraMangroves.html -olaz ^

Below a screenshot of the resulting Potree 3D Web portal rendered with Potree Desktop. Inspecting the classification will reveal a number of errors that could be tweaked manually with lasview. How the point colors were generated is not described here but I used Google satellite imagery and mapped it with lascolor to the points. The elevation colors are mapped from 14 meters to 25 meters. The intensity image may help us understand why the black tar road on the left hand side that runs from the “Las Palmeras Condos” to the beach in “Cangrejal” has no samples. It seems the intensity is lower on this side which indicates that the drone may have flown higher here – too high to for the road to reflect enough photons. The yellow view of return type indicates that despite it’s multi-return capability, the Livox MID-40 LiDAR is mostly collecting single returns.

The penetration capability of the Livox MID-40 LiDAR was less good than we had hoped for. Below thick vegetation we have too few points on the ground to give us a good digital terrain model. In the visualization below you can see that below the dense vegetation there are large black areas which are completely void of points.

Now we produce the standard product DTM and DSM at a resolution of 50 cm. Because the total area is not that big we generate temporary tiles in “raster LAZ” with las2dem and merge them into a single GeoTiff with blast2dem.

las2dem ^
-i Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_median\desman_*.laz ^
-keep_class 8 ^
-step 0.5 -use_tile_bb ^
-odir Samara\Livox\10_tiles_dtm_50cm -olaz ^
-cores 4

blast2dem ^
-i Samara\Livox\10_tiles_dtm_50cm*.laz -merged ^
-step 0.5 -hillshade ^
-o Samara\Livox\dtm_50cm.png

blast2dem ^
-i Samara\Livox\10_tiles_dtm_50cm*.laz -merged ^
-step 0.5 ^
-o Samara\Livox\dtm_50cm.tif

lasthin ^
-i Samara\Livox\07_tiles_ground_median\desman_*.laz ^
-step 0.5 -percentile 95 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\11_tiles_highest -olaz ^
-cores 4

las2dem ^
-i Samara\Livox\11_tiles_highest\desman_*.laz ^
-step 0.5 -use_tile_bb ^
-odir Samara\Livox\12_tiles_dsm_50cm -olaz ^
-cores 4

blast2dem ^
-i Samara\Livox\12_tiles_dsm_50cm*.laz -merged ^
-step 0.5 -hillshade ^
-o Samara\Livox\dsm_50cm.png

blast2dem ^
-i Samara\Livox\12_tiles_dsm_50cm*.laz -merged ^
-step 0.5 ^
-o Samara\Livox\dsm_50cm.tif

A big “Thank You!” to Nelson Mattie from LiDAR Latinoamerica for bringing his fancy drone to Samara and to Andre Jalobeanu from Bayesmap for his help in aligning the data. You can download the flight lines here and do the above processing on your own after downloading LAStools.

Preparing Drone LiDAR from Snoopy by LidarUSA carrying a Velodyne HDL-32E

In March 2019 I was welcoming Nelson Mattie from LiDAR Latinoamerica to Samara who brought along his versatile Snoopy A-Series scanning system by LidarUSA that is based on the Velodyne HDL-32E scanner. We mounted it to his truck for a mobile scan of the core downtown block, Nelson carried it on his shoulder through “Samara Jungle” for a pedestrian scan and we strapped it onto a DJI Matrice 600 to scan this cute beach and surf town from above.

The scanning part was easy. Getting sensible data out of the ScanLookPC software proved to be quite an Odyssee as I neither had access to nor training with the ScanLookPC software. Hard surfaces such as the roof of the “New China” supermarket looked this wobbly when looking at the points from individual beams of this 32 beam scanner and turned into a complete fuzz when using all points from all beams.

I could only scrutinize the LAS files and I found several unrelated errors, such as duplicate returns and non-unique GPS time stamps, but I was unable to fix the wobbles. Frustrated with the vendor support I was ready to give up when out-of-nowhere I suddenly got an email from Luis Hernandez Perez who also worked with these system. He sent me a link to properly exported flight strips and suggested “it was a problem of poor GNSS signal and the solution for me was use the base station IND1 (of IGS) that was 3.2 kilometers away”. After months of struggles I finally had LiDAR data from downtown Samara and look how crisp the roof of the supermarket suddenly was.

As always my standard quality checks are running lasview, lasinfo, lasgrid but most importantly lasoverlap which would reveal the typical flight line misalignments that we can find in most airborne surveys.

lasoverlap ^
-i Samara\Drone\00_raw\*.laz -faf ^
-step 1 -min_diff 0.1 -max_diff 0.2 -no_over ^
-o Samara\Drone\01_quality\overlap_10_20_before.png

As usually, I contacted Andre Jalobeanu from Bayesmap and asked for help with the alignment. A few days later he returned a new and improved set of flight lines to me that he had run through his stripalign software. So I performed the same quality check with lasoverlap once again.

lasoverlap ^
-i Samara\Drone\00_raw_aligned\*.laz -faf ^
-step 1 -min_diff 0.1 -max_diff 0.2 -no_over ^
-o Samara\Drone\01_quality\overlap_10_20_after.png

Vertical differences of more than 20 centimeters are mapped to saturated blue and red and the improvement in alignment though stripalign is impressive. Note that the road is not white because it was perfectly aligned but because there was no data. A few days before the scan, Samara got a new tar road from the municipality. As we were flying at 70 meters above ground – a little too high for this LiDAR scanner – we did not capture surfaces with low reflectivity and the fresh black tar did not reflect enough photons.

The Velodyne HDL-32E scanner rotates shooting laser beams from 32 different heads and the information which return comes from which head was stored into the “user data” field and into the “point_source ID” field of each point by the exporting software. The LAS format does not have a dedicated field for this information as the supported maximum number of different laser beams is 4 in the new point types 6 through 10 of the latest LAS 1.4 specification (where this field is called the “scanner channel”). But when we use lastile to turn the flight lines into square tiles we will override the “point_source ID” with the flight line number. Also the “user data” field is a fragile place to store important information as lasheight, for example, will store temporary data there. The “extra bytes” concept of the LAS format is perfect to store such an additional attribute and the ASPRS LAS Working Group is currently discussing to have standardized “extra bytes” for exactly such laser beam IDs.

We at rapidlasso have already implemented this a while ago into our LAStools software. So before processing the data any further we copy the beam index that ranges from 0 to 31 from the “user data” field into an unsigned 8 bit integer “extra byte” with these two las2las commands.

las2las ^
-i Samara\Drone\00_raw_aligned\*.laz ^
-add_attribute 1 "laser beam ID" "which beam ranged this return" ^
-odir Samara\Drone\00_raw_temp -olaz

las2las ^
-i Samara\Drone\00_raw_temp\*.laz ^
-copy_user_data_into_attribute 0 ^
-set_user_data 0 ^
-set_point_source 0 ^
-odir Samara\Drone\00_raw_ready -olaz

In a future article we will process these aligned and prepared flight lines into a number of products. We thank Nelson Mattie from LiDAR Latinoamerica, Luis Hernandez Perez and Andre Jalobeanu from Bayesmap to help me acquire and fix this data. Several others helped with experiments using their own software and data or contributed otherwise to the discussions in the LAStools user forum. Thanks, guys. This data will soon be available as open data but a sample lasinfo report is already below.

lasinfo (210128) report for 'Samara\Drone\00_raw_ready\flightline_01.laz'
reporting all LAS header entries:
file signature: 'LASF'
file source ID: 1
global_encoding: 0
project ID GUID data 1-4: 00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000
version major.minor: 1.2
system identifier: 'LAStools (c) by rapidlasso GmbH'
generating software: 'las2las (version 210315)'
file creation day/year: 224/2019
header size: 227
offset to point data: 527
number var. length records: 2
point data format: 1
point data record length: 29
number of point records: 6576555
number of points by return: 6576555 0 0 0 0
scale factor x y z: 0.001 0.001 0.001
offset x y z: 661826 1092664 14
min x y z: 660986.622 1092595.013 11.816
max x y z: 661858.813 1092770.575 95.403
variable length header record 1 of 2:
reserved 0
user ID 'ScanLook'
record ID 25
length after header 0
description 'ScanLook Point Cloud'
variable length header record 2 of 2:
reserved 0
user ID 'LASF_Spec'
record ID 4
length after header 192
description 'by LAStools of rapidlasso GmbH'
Extra Byte Descriptions
data type: 1 (unsigned char), name "laser beam ID", description: "which beam ranged this return", scale: 1 (not set), offset: 0 (not set)

LASzip compression (version 3.4r3 c2 50000): POINT10 2 GPSTIME11 2 BYTE 2
reporting minimum and maximum for all LAS point record entries …
X -839378 32813
Y -68987 106575
Z -2184 81403
intensity 4 255
return_number 1 1
number_of_returns 1 1
edge_of_flight_line 0 0
scan_direction_flag 0 0
classification 1 1
scan_angle_rank -12 90
user_data 0 0
point_source_ID 0 0
gps_time 537764.192416 537854.547507
attribute0 0 31 ('laser beam ID')
number of first returns: 6576555
number of intermediate returns: 0
number of last returns: 6576555
number of single returns: 6576555
overview over number of returns of given pulse: 6576555 0 0 0 0 0 0
histogram of classification of points:
6576555 unclassified (1)

Strip Aligning of Drone LiDAR flown with Livox MID-40 over destroyed Mangrove

September 11th 2020 seemed like a fitting day to hunt down – with a powerful drone – those who destroy our common good. The latest DJI M300 RTK drone came to visit me in Samara, Guanacaste, Costa Rica and it was carrying the gAirHawk GS-MID40 UAV laser scanning system by Geosun featuring the light-weight Livox Mid 40 LiDAR. The drone is owned and operated by my friends at LiDAR Latinoamerica.

We flew a two-sortie mission covering a destroyed mangrove lagoon that was illegally poisoned, cut-down and filled in with the intention to construct a fancy resort in its place some 25 years ago. For future environmental work I wanted to get a high-resolution baseline scan with detailed topography of the meadow and what now-a-days remains of the mangroves that are part of the adjacent “Rio Lagarto” estuary. Recently the area was illegally treated with herbicides to eliminate the native herbs and the wild flowers and improve grazing conditions for cattle. Detailed topography can show how the heavy rains have washed these illegal substances into the ocean and further prove that the application of agro-chemicals in this meadow causes harm to marine life.

Here you can see a sequence of video about the LiDAR system, the preparations and the survey flights. Shortly after the flight I obtained the LiDAR from Nelson Mattie, the CEO of LiDAR Latinoamerica and ran the usual quality checks with LAStools.

lasinfo ^
-i Samara\Livox\00_raw_laz\*.laz ^
-histo intensity 16 ^
-histo gps_time 10 ^
-histo z 5 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\01_quality -odix _info -otxt ^
-cores 3

lasgrid ^
-i Samara\Livox\00_raw_laz\*.laz ^
-utm 16north ^
-merged ^
-keep_last ^
-step 0.5 ^
-density ^
-false -set_min_max 100 1000 ^
-odir Samara\Livox\01_quality ^
-o density_050cm_100_1000.png

For the density image, lasgrid counts how many last return from all flight lines fall into each 50 cm by 50 cm area, computes the desnity per square meter and maps this number to a color ramp that goes from blue via cyan, yellow and orange to red. The overall density of our survey is in the hundred of laser pulses per square meters with great variations where flight line overlap and at the survey boundary. The start and landing area as well as the place where the first flight ended and the second flight started are the two red spots of maximum density that can easily be picked out.

blue: 100 or fewer laser pulses per square meters, red: 1000 or more laser pulses per square meter

lasoverlap ^
-i Samara\Livox\00_raw_laz\*.laz ^
-utm 16north ^
-merged -faf ^
-step 0.5 ^
-min_diff 0.10 -max_diff 0.25 ^
-elevation -lowest ^
-odir Samara\Livox\01_quality ^
-o overlap_050cm_10cm_25cm.png

For the overlap image lasoverlap counts how many different flight lines overlap each 50 cm by 50 cm area and maps the counter to a color: 1 = blue, 2 = cyan, 3 = yellow, 4 = orange, and 5 of more = red. Here the result suggests that the 27 delivered LAS files do not actually correspond to the logical flight lines but that the files are chopped up in some other way. We will have Andre Jalobeanu from Bayesmap repair this for us later.

number of flight lines covering each area: blue = 1, cyan = 2, yellow – 3, orange = 4, red = 5 or more

For the difference image, lasoverlap finds the maximal vertical difference between the lowest points from all flight lines that overlap for each 50 cm by 50 cm area and maps it to a color. If this difference is less than 10 cm, the area is colored white. Differences of 25 cm or more are colored either red or blue. All open areas such as roads, meadows and rooftops should be white here we definitely have way to much red and blue in the open areas.

vertical differences below 10 cm are white but red or blue if above 25 cm

There is way too much red and blue in areas that are wide open or on roof tops. We inspect this in further detail by taking a closer look at some of these red and blue areas. For this we first spatially index the strips with lasindex so that area-of-interest queries are accelerated, then load the strips into the GUI of lasview and add the difference image into the background via the overlay option.

lasindex ^
-i Samara\Livox
\00_raw_laz\*.laz ^
-tile_size 10 -maximum -100 ^
-cores 3

lasview ^
-i Samara\Livox
\00_raw_laz\*.laz ^

using the difference image as an overlay to inspect troublesome areas

This way is easy to lasview or clip out (with las2las) those areas that look especially troublesome. We do this here for the large condominium “Las Palmeras” whose roofline and pool provide perfect features to illustrate the misalignment. As you can see in the image sequence below, there is a horizontal shift of up to 1 meter that can be nicely visualized with a cross section drawn perpendicular across the gable of the roof and – due to the inability to get returns from water – in the area without points where the pool is.

The misalignments between flight lines are too big for the data to be useful as is, so we do what we always do when we have this problem: We write an email to Andre Jalobeanu from Bayesmap and ask for help.

After receiving the LAZ files and the trajectory file Andre repaired the misalignment in two steps. The first call to his software stripalign in mode ‘-cut’ recovered a proper set of flight lines and removed most of the LiDAR points from the moments when the drone was turning. The second call to his software stripalign in mode ‘-align’ computed the amount of misalignment in this set of flight lines and produced a new set of flight lines with these errors corrected as much as possible. The results are fabulous.

lasmerge ^
-i Samara_MID40\*.laz ^
-o samaramid40.laz

stripalign ^
-uav -cut ^
-i samaramid40.laz ^
-po Samara_MID40\*.txt -po_parse ntxyzwpk ^
-G2 -cut_dist 50 ^
-O Samara_MID40\cut

stripalign ^
-uav -align ^
-i Samara_MID40\cut\*.laz ^
-po Samara_MID40\*.txt -po_parse ntxyzwpk ^
-A -G2 -full -smap -rmap -sub 2 ^
-O Samara_MID40\corr

As you can see above, the improvements are incredible. The data seems now sufficiently aligned to be useful for being processed into a number of products. One last thing to do is the removal of spurious scan lines that seem to stem from an unusual movement of the drone, like the beginning or the end of a turn.

We use lasview with option ‘-load_gps_time’ to determine the GPS time stamps of these spurious scan lines and remove them manually using las2las with option ‘-drop_gps_time_between t1 t2’ or similar. As the points are ordered in acquisition order, we can simply replay the flight by pressing ‘p’ and step forward and backward with ‘s’ and ‘S’.

Using lasview with hot keys ‘i’, ‘p’, ‘s’ and ‘S’ we find the GPS time of points from the last reasonable scan line.

Once we determined a suitable set of GPS times to remove from a flight lines we first verify our findings once more visually using lasview before actually creating the final cut with las2las.

lasview ^
-i Samara\Livox
\02_strips_aligned\samaramid40_c_13_i_13.laz ^
-drop_gps_time_below 283887060 ^
-drop_gps_time_above 283887123 ^
-filtered_transform ^
-set_classification 8 ^

visualizing which points we keep by mapping them on-the-fly to classification 8 with a filtered transform

las2las ^
-i Samara\Livox
\02_strips_aligned\samaramid40_c_13_i_13.laz ^
-drop_gps_time_below 283887060 ^
-drop_gps_time_above 283887123 ^
-odix _cut -olaz

After spending several hours of manually removing these spurious scan lines as well as deciding to remove a few short scan lines in areas of exzessive overlap we have a sufficiently aligned and cleaned data set to start the actual post-processing.

A big “Thank You!” to Andre Jalobeanu from Bayesmap for his help in aligning the data and to Nelson Mattie from LiDAR Latinoamerica for bringing his fancy drone to Samara. You can download the data here.

final density after removing turns, spurious scan lines and redundant scan lines

LASmoons: Leonidas Alagialoglou

Leonidas Alagialoglou (recipient of three LASmoons)
Multimedia Understanding Group, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki, GREECE

Canopy height is a fundamental geometric tree parameter in supporting sustainable forest management. Apart from the standard height measurement method using LiDAR instruments, other airborne measurement techniques, such as very high-resolution passive airborne imaging, have also shown to provide accurate estimations. However, both methods suffer from high cost and cannot be regularly repeated.

Preliminary results of predicted CHE based on multi-temporal satellite images against ground-truth LiDAR measurements. The 3rd column depicts pixel-wise absolute error of prediction. Last column depicts pixel-wise uncertainty estimation of the prediction (in means of 3 standard deviations).

In our study, we attempt to substitute airborne measurements with widely available satellite imagery. In addition to spatial and spectral correlations of a single-shot image, we seek to exploit temporal correlations of sequential lower resolution imagery. For this we use a convolutional variant of a recurrent neural network based model for estimating canopy height, based on a temporal sequence of Sentinel-2 images. Our model’s performance using sequential space borne imagery is shown to outperform the compared state-of-the-art methods based on costly airborne single-shot images as well as satellite images.

Digital Terrain Model of a part of the study area

The experimental study area of approximately 940 squared km is includes two national parks, Bavarian Forest National Park and Šumava National Park, which are located at the border between Germany and Czech Republic. LiDAR measurements of the area from 2017 and 2019 will be used as ground truth height measurements that have been provided by the national park’s authorities. Temporal sequences of Sentinel-2 imagery will be acquired from the Copernicus hub for canopy height estimation.

LAStools processing:
Accurate conversion of LAS files into DEM and DSM in order to acquire ground truth canopy height model.
1) Remove noise [lasthin, lasnoise]
2) Classify points into ground and non-ground [lasground, lasground_new]
3) Create DTMs and DSMs [lasthin, las2dem]

LASmoons: Zak Kus

Zak Kus (recipient of three LASmoons)
Topology Enthusiast
San Francisco, USA

While LiDAR data enables a lot of research and innovation in a lot of fields, it can also be used to create unique and visceral art. Using the high resolution data available, a 3D printer, and a long tool chain, we can create a physical, 3D topological map of the San Francisco bay area that shows off both the city’s hilly geology, and its unique skyline.


Test print of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.


Test print of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

The ultimate goal of this project is to create an accurate, unique physical map of San Francisco, and the surrounding areas, which will be given to a loved one as a birthday gift. Using the data from the 2010 ARRA-CA GoldenGate survey, we can filter and process the raw lidar data into a DEM format using LAStools, which can be converted using a python script into a “water tight” 3D printable STL file.

While the data works fairly well out of the box, it does require a lot of manual editing, to remove noise spikes, and to delineate the coast line from the water in low lng areas. Interestingly, while many sophisticated tools exist to edit STLs that could in theory be used to clean up and prepare the files at the STL stage, few are capable of even opening files with so much detailed data. Using LAStools to manually classify, and remove unwanted data is the only way to achieve the desired level of detail in the final piece.

LiDAR data provided through USGS OpenTopography, using the ARRA-CA GoldenGate 2010 survey
+ Average point density of 3.33 pts/m^2 (though denser around SF)
+ Covers 2638 km^2 in total (only a ~100 km^2 subset is used)

LAStools processing:
Remove noise [lasnoise]
2) Manually clean up shorelines and problematic structures [lasview, laslayers]
3) Combine multiple tiles (to fit 3d printer) [lasmerge]
4) Create DEMs (asc format) for external tool to process [las2dem]

Completeness and Correctness of Discrete LiDAR Returns per Laser Pulse fired

Again and again we have preached about the importance of quality checking when you first get your expensive LiDAR data from the vendor or your free LiDAR data from an open data portal. The minimal quality check we usually advocate consists of lasinfo, lasvalidate, lasoverlap, and lasgrid. The information computed by these LAStools can reassure you that the data contains the right information, is specification conform, has properly aligned flight lines, and has the density distribution you expect. For deliveries or downloads in LAZ format we in addition recommend running laszip with the option ‘-check’ to find the rare file that might have gotten bit-corrupted or truncated during the transfer or the download. Today we learn about a more advanced quality check that can be done by running lassort followed by lasreturn.

For every laser shot fired there are usually between one to five discrete LiDAR returns and some full-waveform systems may even deliver up to fifteen returns. Each of these one to fifteen returns is then given the exact same GPS time stamp that corresponds to the moment in time the laser pulse was fired. By having these unique GPS time stamps we can always recover the set of returns that come from the same laser shot. This makes it possible to check completeness (are all the returns in the file) and correctness (is the returns numbering correct) for the discrete returns of each laser pulse.


Showing all sets of returns in the file that do not have an unique GPS time stamp because the set has one or more duplicate returns (e.g. two first returns, two second returns, … ).

With LAStools we can do this by running lassort followed by lasreturn for any LiDAR that comes from a single beam system. For LiDAR that comes from some multi-beam system, such as the Velodyne 16, 32, 64, or 128, the Optech Pegasus, the RIEGL LMS 1560 (aka “crossfire”), or the Leica ALS70 or ALS80 we first need to seperate the files into one file per beam, which can be done with lassplit.  In the following we investigate data coming from an Optech Galaxy single-beam system. First we sort the returns by GPS time stamp using lassort (this step can be omitted if the data is already sorted in acquisition order (aka by increasing GPS time stamps)) and then we check the return numbering with lasreturn:

lassort -i L001-1-M01-S1-C1_r.laz -gps_time -odix _sorted -olaz

lasreturn -i L001-1-M01-S1-C1_r_sorted.laz -check_return_numbering
checked returns of 11809046 multi and 8585573 single return pulses. took 26.278 secs
missing: 0 duplicate: 560717 too large: 0 zero: 0
200543 returns with n = 1 and r = 1 are duplicate
80548 returns with n = 2 and r = 1 are duplicate
80548 returns with n = 2 and r = 2 are duplicate
41962 returns with n = 3 and r = 1 are duplicate
41962 returns with n = 3 and r = 2 are duplicate
41962 returns with n = 3 and r = 3 are duplicate
13753 returns with n = 4 and r = 1 are duplicate
13753 returns with n = 4 and r = 2 are duplicate
13753 returns with n = 4 and r = 3 are duplicate
13753 returns with n = 4 and r = 4 are duplicate
3636 returns with n = 5 and r = 1 are duplicate
3636 returns with n = 5 and r = 2 are duplicate
3636 returns with n = 5 and r = 3 are duplicate
3636 returns with n = 5 and r = 4 are duplicate
3636 returns with n = 5 and r = 5 are duplicate
WARNING: there are 59462 GPS time stamps that have returns with different number of returns

The output we see above indicates a problem in the return numbering. A recently added new options to lasreturn that allow to reclassify those returns that seem to be part of a problematic set of returns that either contains missing returns, duplicate returns, or returns with different values for the “numbers of returns of given pulse” attribute. This allows us to visualize the issue with lasview. All returns whose are part of a problematic set is shown in the image above.

lasreturn -i L001-1-M01-S1-C1_r_sorted.laz ^
          -check_return_numbering ^
          -classify_as 8 ^
          -classify_duplicate_as 9 ^
          -classify_violation_as 7 ^
          -odix _marked -olaz

This command will mark all sets of returns (i.e. returns that have the exact same GPS time stamp) that have missing returns as 8, that have duplicate returns as 9, and that have returns which different “number of returns per pulse” attribute as 7. The data we have here has no missing returns (no returns are classified as 8) but we have duplicate (9) and violating (7) returns. We look at them closely in single scan lines to conclude.

It immediately becomes obvious that the same GPS time stamp was assigned to the returns of pair of subsequent shots. If the subsequent shots have the same number of returns per shot they are classified as duplicate (9 or blue). If the subsequent shots have different number of returns per shot they are marked as violating (7 or violett) but the reason for the issue is the same. We can look at a few of these return sets in ASCII. Here two subsequent four return shots that have the same GPS time stamp.

237881.011730 4 1 691602.736 5878246.425 141.992 6 79
237881.011730 4 2 691602.822 5878246.415 141.173 6 89
237881.011730 4 3 691603.051 5878246.389 138.993 6 44
237881.011730 4 4 691603.350 5878246.356 136.150 6 169
237881.011730 4 1 691602.793 5878246.439 142.037 6 114
237881.011730 4 2 691602.883 5878246.429 141.185 6 96
237881.011730 4 3 691603.109 5878246.404 139.033 6 50
237881.011730 4 4 691603.414 5878246.370 136.129 6 137

Here a four return shot followed by a three return shot that have the same GPS time stamp.

237881.047753 4 1 691603.387 5878244.501 140.187 6 50
237881.047753 4 2 691603.602 5878244.476 138.141 6 114
237881.047753 4 3 691603.776 5878244.456 136.490 6 60
237881.047753 4 4 691603.957 5878244.436 134.767 6 116
237881.047753 3 1 691603.676 5878244.492 138.132 6 97
237881.047753 3 2 691603.845 5878244.473 136.534 6 90
237881.047753 3 3 691604.034 5878244.452 134.739 6 99

It appears the GPS time counter in the LMS export software did not store the GPS time with sufficient resolution to always distinguish subsequent shots. The issue was confirmed by Optech and was already fixed a few months ago.

We should point out that these double-used GPS time stamps have zero impact on the geometric quality of the point cloud or the distribution of returns. The drawback is that not all returns can easily be grouped into one unique set per laser shot and that the files are not entirely specification conform. Any software that relies on accurate and unique GPS time stamps (such as flight line alignment software) may potentially struggle as well. The bug of the twice-used GPS time stamps was a discovery that is probably of such low consequence that no user of Optech Galaxy data had noticed it in the 4 years that Galaxy had been sold … until we really really scrutinized some data from one of our clients. Optech reports that the issue has been fixed now. But there are other vendors out there with even more serious GPS time and return numbering issues … to be continued.

National Open LiDAR Strategy of Latvia humiliates Germany, Austria, and other European “Closed Data” States

Latvia, officially the Republic of Latvia, is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe has around 2 million inhabitants, a territory of 65 thousand square kilometers and – since recently – also a fabulous open LiDAR policy. Here is a list of 65939 tiles in LAS format available for free download that cover the entire country with airborne LiDAR with a density from 4 to 6 pulses per square meters. The data is classified into ground, building, vegetation, water, low noise, and a few other classifications. It is licensed Creative Commons CC0 1.0 – meaning that you can copy, modify, and distribute the data, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. And there is a simple and  functional interactive download portal where you can easily download individual tiles.


Interactive open LiDAR download portal of Latvia.

We downloaded the 5 by 5 block of square kilometer tiles matching “4311-32-XX.las” for checking the quality and creating a 1m DTM and a 1m DSM raster. You can follow along after downloading the latest version of LAStools.

Quality Checking

We first run lasvalidate and lasinfo on the downloaded LAS files and then immediately compress them with laszip because multi-core processing of uncompressed LAS files will quickly overwhelm our file system, make processing I/O bound, and result in overall longer processing times with CPUs waiting idly for data to be loaded from the drives.

lasinfo -i 00_tiles_raw\*.las ^
        -compute_density ^
        -histo z 5 ^
        -histo intensity 256 ^
        -histo user_data 1 ^
        -histo scan_angle 1 ^
        -histo point_source 1 ^
        -histo gps_time 10 ^
        -odir 01_quality -odix _info -otxt ^
        -cores 3
lasvalidate -i 00_tiles_raw\*.las ^
            -no_CRS_fail ^
            -o 01_quality\report.xml

Despite already excluding a missing Coordinate Reference System (CRS) from being a reason to fail (the lasinfo reports show that the downloaded LAS files do not have any geo-referencing information) lasvalidate still reports a few failing files, but scrutinizing the resulting XML file ‘report.xml’ shows only minor issues.

Usually during laszip compression we do not alter the contents of a file, but here we also add the EPSG code 3059 for CRS “LKS92 / Latvia TM” as we turn bulky LAS files into slim LAZ files so we don’t have to specify it in all future processing steps.

laszip -i 00_tiles_raw\*.las ^
       -epsg 3059 ^
       -cores 2

Compression reduces the total size of the 25 tiles from over 4.1 GB to below 0.6 GB.

Next we use lasgrid to visualize the last return density which corresponds to the pulse density of the LiDAR survey. We map each 2 by 2 meter pixel where the last return density is 2 or less to blue and each 2 by 2 meter pixel it is 8 or more to red.

lasgrid -i 00_tiles_raw\*.laz ^
        -keep_last ^
        -step 2 ^
        -density_16bit ^
        -false -set_min_max 2 8 ^
        -odir 01_quality -odix _d_2_8 -opng ^
        -cores 3

This we follow by the mandatory lasoverlap check for flight line overlap and alignment where we map the number of overlapping swaths as well as the worst vertical difference between overlapping swaths to a color that allows for quick visual quality checking.

lasoverlap -i 00_tiles_raw\*.laz ^
           -step 2 ^
           -min_diff 0.1 -max_diff 0.2 ^
           -odir 01_quality -opng ^
           -cores 3

The results of the quality checks with lasgrid and lasoverlap are shown below.

Raster Derivative Generation

Now we use first las2dem to create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) and a Digital Surface Model (DSM) in RasterLAZ format and then use blast2dem to create merged and hill-shaded versions of both. Because we will use on-the-fly buffering to avoid edge effects along tile boundaries we first spatially index the data using lasindex for more efficient access to the points from neighboring tiles.

lasindex -i 00_tiles_raw\*.laz ^
         -cores 3

las2dem -i 00_tiles_raw\*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 9 ^
        -buffered 25 ^
        -step 1 ^
        -use_orig_bb ^
        -odir Latvia\02_dtm_1m -olaz ^
        -cores 3

blast2dem -i 02_dtm_1m\*.laz ^
          -merged ^
          -hillshade ^
          -step 1 ^
          -o dtm_1m.png

las2dem -i 00_tiles_raw\*.laz ^
        -drop_class 1 7 ^
        -buffered 10 ^
        -spike_free 1.5 ^
        -step 1 ^
        -use_orig_bb ^
        -odir 03_dsm_1m -olaz ^
        -cores 3

blast2dem -i 03_dsm_1m\*.laz ^
          -merged ^
          -hillshade ^
          -step 1 ^
          -o dsm_1m.png

Because the overlaid imagery does not look as nice in our new Google Earth installation, below are the DTM and DSM at versions down-sampled to 25% of their original size.

Many thanks to SunGIS from Latvia who tweeted us about the Open LiDAR after we chatted about it during the Foss4G 2019 gala dinner. Kudos to the Latvian Geospatial Information Agency (LGIA) for implementing a modern national geospatial policy that created opportunity for maximal return of investment by opening the expensive tax-payer funded LiDAR data for re-purposing and innovation without barriers. Kudos!

Smooth DTM from Drone LiDAR off Velodyne HDL 32A mounted on DJI M600 UAV

Recently we attempted to do a small LiDAR survey by drone for a pet project of our CEO in our “code and surf camp” here in Samara, Costa Rica. But surveying is difficult when you are a novice and we ran into a trajectory issue. The dramatic “wobbles” were entirely our fault, but fortunately our mistakes also led to something useful: We found some LAS export bugs. Our laser scanner was a Velodyne HDL-32E integrated with a NovAtel INS into the Snoopy Series A HD made by LiDARUSA. The system was carried by a DJI Matrice 600 (M600) drone. We processed the trajectory with NovAtel Inertial Explorer (here we made the “wobbles” error) and finally exported the LAS and LAZ files with ScanLook PC (version 1.0.182) from LiDARUSA.

While we were investigating our “wobbles” (which clearly were our mistake) we also found five different LAS export bugs in ScanLook PC that seem to have started sometime after version 1.0.171 and will likely end with version 1.0.193. Below an illustration of a correct export from version 1.0.129 and a buggy export from version 1.0.182. In both instances you see the returns from one revolution of the Velodyne HDL-32E scanner head ordered by their GPS time stamps and colored to distinguish the 32 separate beams. In the buggy version, groups of around seven non-adjacent returns are given the same time stamp. This bug will only affect you, if correct GPS time stamps are important for your subsequent LiDAR processing or if your client explicitly asked for ASPRS specification compliant LAS files. We plan to publish another blog post detailing how to find this GPS time stamping bug (and the other four bugs we found).

During the many interactions we had working through “wobbles” and export bugs, we obtained a nice set of six flight lines from Seth Gulich of Bowman Consulting – a US American company based in Stuart, Florida – who flew an identical “Snoopy Series A HD” system also on a DJI Matrice 600 drone at approximately 100 feet above ground level above a model airplane airport in Palm Beach, Florida. You can download the data set here. In the following we will check the flight line alignment of this data set and then process it into a smooth DTM. All command lines used are summarized in this text file.

First we generate a lasinfo report that includes a number of histograms for on-the-fly merged flight lines with lasinfo and then use the z coordinate histogram from the lasinfo report to set reasonable min/max values for the elevation color ramp of lasview:

lasinfo -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz -merged ^
        -cd ^
        -histo z 1 ^
        -histo user_data 1 ^
        -histo point_source 1 ^
        -o 1_quality\Velodyne_merged_info.txt

lasview -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz ^
        -points 10000000 ^
        -set_min_max 25 75

The lasinfo report shows no information about the coordinate reference system. We found out experimentally that the horizontal coordinates seem to be EPSG code 2236 and that the vertical units are most likely be US survey feet. The warnings you will see in the lasinfo report have to do with the fact that the double-precision bounding box stored in the LAS header was populated with numbers that have many more decimal digits than the coordinates in the file, which only have millifeet resolution as all three scale factors are 0.001 (meaning coordinates have three decimal digits). The information which of the 32 lasers was collecting which point is stored in both the ‘user data’ and the ‘point source ID’ field which is evident from the histograms in the lasinfo report. We need to be careful not to override both fields in later processing.

Next we use lasoverlap to check how well the LiDAR points from the flight out and the flight back align vertically. This tool computes the difference of the lowest points for each square foot covered by multiple flight lines. Differences of less than a quarter of a foot are both times mapped to white, differences of more than one foot (more than half a foot) are mapped to saturated red or blue depending on whether the difference is positive or negative in the first run (in the second run):

lasoverlap -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz ^
           -faf ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 1.00 -step 1 ^
           -odir 1_quality -o overlap_025_100.png

lasoverlap -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz ^
           -faf ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 0.50 -step 1 ^
           -odir 1_quality -o overlap_025_050.png

We use a new feature of the LAStools GUI (as of version 180429) to closer inspect large red or blue areas. With lasmerge we clip out regions that looks suspect for closer examination with lasview. First we spatially index the flight lines to make this process faster. With the ‘-gui’ switch we start the tool in GUI mode with flight lines already loaded. Using the new PNG overlay roll-out on the left we add the ‘overlap_025_050_diff.png’ image from the quality folder created in the last step and clip out three areas.

lasindex -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz
         -tile_size 10 -maximum -100 ^
         -cores 3

lasmerge -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz -gui

You can also clip out these three areas using the command lines below:

lasmerge -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz ^
         -faf ^
         -inside_tile 939500 889860 100 ^
         -o 1_quality\939500_889860.laz

lasmerge -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz ^
         -faf ^
         -inside_tile 940400 889620 100 ^
         -o 1_quality\940400_889620.laz

lasmerge -i 0_strips_raw\Velodyne*.laz ^
         -faf ^
         -inside_tile 940500 890180 100 ^
         -o 1_quality\940500_890180.laz

The reader may inspect the areas 939500_889860.laz, 940400_889620.laz, and 940500_890180.laz with lasview using profile views via hot keys ‘x’ and switching back and forth between the points from different flight lines via hot keys ‘0’, ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, … for individual and ‘a’ for all flight lines as we have done it in previous tutorials [1,2,3]. Using drop-lines or rise-lines via the pop-up menu gives you a sense of scale. Removing points with lastrack that are horizontally too far from the trajectory could be one strategy to use fewer outliers. But as our surfaces are expected to be “fluffy” (because we have a Velodyne LiDAR system), we accept these flight line differences and continue processing.

Here the complete LAStools processing pipeline for creating an average ground model from the set of six flight lines that results in the hillshaded DTM shown below. The workflow is similar to those we have developed in earlier blog posts for Velodyne Puck based systems like the Hovermap and the Yellowscan and in the other Snoopy tutorial. All command lines used are summarized in this text file.

Hillshaded DTM with half foot resolution generated via average ground computation with LAStools.

In the first step we lastile the six flight lines into 250 by 250 feet tiles with 25 feet buffer while preserving flight line information. The flight line information will be stored in the “point source ID” field of each point and therefore override the beam ID that is currently stored there. But the beam ID is also stored in the “user data” field as the  lasinfo report had told us. We set all classifications to zero and add information about the horizontal coordinate reference system EPSG code 2236 and the vertical units (US Survey Feet).

lastile -i 0_strips_raw\*.laz ^
        -faf ^
        -set_classification 0 ^
        -epsg 2236 -elevation_survey_feet ^
        -tile_size 250 -buffer 25 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -odir 2_tiles_raw -o pb.laz

On three cores in parallel we then lassort the points in the tiles into a space-filling curve order which will accelerate later operations.

lassort -i 2_tiles_raw\*.laz ^
        -odir 2_tiles_sorted -olaz ^
        -cores 3

Next we use lasthin to classify the point whose elevation is closest to the 5th elevation percentile among all points falling into its cell with classification code 8. We run lasthin multiple times and each time increase the cell size from 1, 2, 4, 8 to 16 foot. We do this because we have requested the 5th elevation percentile to only be computed when there are at least 20 points in the cell. Percentiles are statistical measures and need a reasonable sample size to be stable. Because drone flights are very dense in the center and more sparse at the edges this increase in cell size assures that we have a good selection of points classified with classification code 8 across the entire survey area.

lasthin -i 2_tiles_sorted\*.laz ^
        -step 1 -percentile 5 20 -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step01 -olaz ^
        -cores 3

lasthin -i 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step01\*.laz ^
        -step 2 -percentile 5 20 -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step02 -olaz ^
        -cores 3

lasthin -i 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step02\*.laz ^
        -step 4 -percentile 5 20 -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step04 -olaz ^
        -cores 3

lasthin -i 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step04\*.laz ^
        -step 8 -percentile 5 20 -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step08 -olaz ^
        -cores 3

lasthin -i 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step08\*.laz ^
        -step 16 -percentile 5 20 -classify_as 8 ^
        -odir 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step16 -olaz ^
        -cores 3

Then we let lasground_new run on only the points classified with classification code 8 (i.e. by ignoring the points still classified with code 0) which classifies them into ground (code 2) and non-ground (code 1).

lasground_new -i 3_tiles_thinned_p05_step16\*.laz ^
              -ignore_class 0 ^
              -town ^
              -odir 4_tiles_ground_low -olaz ^
              -cores 3

The ground points we have computed form somewhat of a lower envelope of the “fluffy” points of a Velodyne scanner. With lasheight we now draw all the points near the ground – namely those from 0.1 foot below to 0.4 foot above the ground – into a new classification code 6 that we term “thick ground”. The ‘-do_not_store_in_user_data’ switch prevent the default behavior of lasheight from happening, which would override the beam ID information that it stored in the ‘user data’ field with approximate height value.

lasheight -i 4_tiles_ground_low\*.laz ^
          -classify_between -0.1 0.4 6 ^
          -do_not_store_in_user_data ^
          -odir 4_tiles_ground_thick -olaz ^
          -cores 3

A few close-up shots of the resulting “thick ground” are shown in the picture gallery below.

We then use lasgrid to average the (orange) thick ground points onto a regular grid with a cell spacing of half a foot. We do not grid the tile buffers by adding the ‘-use_tile_bb’ switch.

lasgrid -i 4_tiles_ground_thick\*.laz ^
        -keep_class 6 ^
        -step 0.5 -average ^
        -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir 5_tiles_gridded_mean_ground -olaz ^
        -cores 3

Finally we use blast2dem to merge all the averaged ground point grids into one file, interpolate across open areas without ground points, and compute the hillshaded DTM shown above. All command lines used are summarized in this text file.

blast2dem -i 5_tiles_gridded_mean_ground\*.laz ^
          -merged ^
          -step 0.5 ^
          -hillshade ^
          -o dtm.png

We thank Seth Gulich of Bowman Consulting for sharing this LiDAR data set with us. It was flown with a DJI Matrice 600 drone carrying a “Snoopy A series HD” LiDAR system from LidarUSA.

No Sugarcoating: Sweet LiDAR from RiCOPTER carrying VUX-1UAV over Sugarcane

Recently we saw an interesting LiDAR data set talked about on social media by Chad Netto from Chustz Surveying in New Roads, Louisiana and asked for a copy. It is a LiDAR scan of a sugarcane plantation in Assumption Parish, Louisiana carried out with the VUX-1UAV by RIEGL mounted onto a RiCOPTER and guided by an Applanix IMU and a Trimble base station. That is probably one of the sweetest (but also one of the most expensive) UAV LiDAR system you can buy today. I received this LiDAR file and this trajectory file. In the following we talk a detailed look at this data set.

First we run lasinfo to get an idea of the contents of the data set. We create various histograms as those can often help understand an unfamiliar data set:

lasinfo -i sugarcane\181026_163424.laz ^
        -cd ^
        -histo gps_time 5 ^
        -histo intensity 64 ^
        -histo point_source 1 ^
        -histo z 5 ^
        -odix _info -otxt

You can download the resulting report here. For the 84,751,955 points we notice that

  1. both horizontal and vertical coordinates are stored in US survey feet
  2. with scale factors of 0.00025 this means a resolution of 76 micrometer
  3. there is no explicit flight line information (all point source IDs are zero)
  4. gaps in the GPS time stamp histogram are suggesting multiple lines

First we use las2las to lower the insanely high resolution from 0.00025 US survey feet to something more reasonable for an airborne UAV scan, namely to 0.01 or 1 hundredths of a US survey foot or centi-US-survey-feet:

las2las -i sugarcane\181026_163424.laz ^
        -rescale 0.01 0.01 0.01 ^
        -odix _cft -olaz

I have already done this for you. The file that is online is already in “centi-US-survey-feet” because it reduced the file size from the original 678 MB file that we got from Netto to the 518 MB file that is online, meaning that you had 160 MB less data to download.

Next we use lassplit to recover the original flight lines as follows:

lassplit -i sugarcane\181026_163424.laz ^
         -recover_flightlines ^
         -odir sugarcane\0_recovered_strips ^
         -o assumption.laz

This results in 5 strips. We then use lassort to bring the strips back into their original acquisition order by sorting first based on the GPS time stamp (which brings all returns of one pulse together) and second on the return number (which sorts them in ascending order). We do this on 3 cores in parallel with this command:

lassort -i sugarcane\0_recovered_strips\*.laz ^
        -gps_time ^
        -return_number ^
        -odir sugarcane\1_sorted_strips -olaz ^
        -cores 3

We also create a spatial index for each of these strips using lasindex so that any area-of-interest query that we do later will be significantly accelerated. See the README file for the meaning of the parameters:

lasindex -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
         -tile_size 10 -maximum -100 ^
         -cores 3

Then we check for flight line alignment using lasoverlap by comparing – per 2 feet by 2 feet area – the lowest elevation value of points from different strips wherever there is overlap. Cells with an absolute vertical difference of less than a quarter of a foot are mapped to white. Cells with vertical differences of more (or less) than a quarter foot are mapped to an increasingly red (or blue) color that is saturated red (or blue) when one full foot is reached.

lasoverlap -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
           -files_are_flightlines ^
           -step 2.0 ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 1.0 ^
           -o sugarcane\2_quality\overlap.png

The resulting image looks dramatic at first glance. But we have to remember that this is sugarcane. The penetration of the laser can vary greatly depending on the direction from which the beam hits the densely standing stalks. Large differences between flight lines can be expected where sugarcane stands tall. We need to focus our visual quality checks on the few open areas, namely the access roads and harvested areas.

Color-mapped highest vertical difference in lowest point per 2 feet by 2 feet area between overlapping flight lines.

We use las2las via its native GUI to cut out several suspicious-looking open areas with overly red or overly blue shading. By loading the resulting image into the GUI these areas-of-interest are easy to target and cut out.

las2las -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz -gui

Overlaying the difference image in the GUI of las2las to cut out suspicious areas for closer inspection.

We cut out four square 100 by 100 meter tiles in open areas that show a suspiciously strong pattern of red or blue colors for closer inspection. The command lines for these four square areas are given below and you can download them here:

  1. assumption_3364350_534950_100.laz
  2. assumption_3365600_535750_100.laz
  3. assumption_3364900_535500_100.laz
  4. assumption_3365500_535600_100.laz
las2las -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
        -merged -faf ^
        -inside_tile 3364350 534950 100 ^
        -o sugarcane\assumption_3364350_534950_100.laz

las2las -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
        -merged -faf ^
        -inside_tile 3365600 535750 100 ^
        -o sugarcane\assumption_3365600_535750_100.laz

las2las -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
        -merged -faf ^
        -inside_tile 3364900 535500 100 ^
        -o sugarcane\assumption_3364900_535500_100.laz

las2las -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
        -merged -faf ^
        -inside_tile 3365500 535600 100 ^
        -o sugarcane\assumption_3365500_535600_100.laz

In the image sequence below we scrutinize these differences which will lead us to notice two things:

  1. There are vertical miss-alignments of around one foot. These big difference can especially be observed between flight lines that cover an area with a very high point density and those that cover the very same area with a very low point density.
  2. There are horizontal miss-alignments of around one foot. Again these differences seem somewhat correlated to the density that these flight lines cover a particular area with.

For the most part the miss-aligned points come from a flight line that has only sparse coverage in that area. In a flat terrain the return density per area goes down the farther we are from the drone as those areas are only reached with higher and higher scan angles. Hence an immediate idea that comes to mind is to limit the scan angle to those closer to nadir and lower the range from -81 to 84 degrees reported in the lasinfo report to something like -75 to 75, -70 to 70, or -65 to 65 degrees. We can check how this will improve the alignment with these lasoverlap command lines:

lasoverlap -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
           -files_are_flightlines ^
           -keep_scan_angle -75 75 ^
           -step 2.0 ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 1.0 ^
           -o sugarcane\2_quality\overlap75.png

lasoverlap -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
           -files_are_flightlines ^
           -keep_scan_angle -70 70 ^
           -step 2.0 ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 1.0 ^
           -o sugarcane\2_quality\overlap70.png

lasoverlap -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
           -files_are_flightlines ^
           -keep_scan_angle -65 65 ^
           -step 2.0 ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 1.0 ^
           -o sugarcane\2_quality\overlap65.png

lasoverlap -i sugarcane\1_sorted_strips\*.laz ^
           -files_are_flightlines ^
           -keep_scan_angle -60 60 ^
           -step 2.0 ^
           -min_diff 0.25 -max_diff 1.0 ^
           -o sugarcane\2_quality\overlap60.png

This simple technique significantly improves the difference image. Based on these images would suggest to only use returns with a scan angle between -70 and 70 degrees for any subsequent analysis. This seems to remove most of the discoloring in open areas without loosing too many points. Note that only using returns with a scan angle between -60 and 60 degrees means that some flight lines are no longer overlapping each other.

Note also that by limiting the scan angle we get suddenly get white areas even in incredible dense vegetation. The more horizontal a laser shoot is the more likely it will only hit higher up sugarcane plants and the less likely it will penetrate all the way to the ground. The white areas coincide with where laser pulses are close to nadir which is in the flight line overlap areas that directly below the drone’s trajectory.

Can we improve alignment further? Not with LAStools, so I turned to Andre Jalobeanu, a specialist on that particular issue, who I have known for many years. Andre has developed BayesStripAlign – a software by his company BayesMap that is quite complementary to LAStools and does exactly what the name suggests: it align strips. I gave Andre the five flight lines and he aligned them for me. Below the new difference images:

We cut out the very same four square areas from the realigned strips for closer inspection and you may investigate them on your own. You can download them here.

  1. assumption_3364350_534950_100_realigned.laz
  2. assumption_3365600_535750_100_realigned.laz
  3. assumption_3364900_535500_100_realigned.laz
  4. assumption_3365500_535600_100_realigned.laz

In the image sequence below we are just looking at the last of the four square areas and you can see that most of the miss-alignment we saw earlier between the flight lines was removed.

We would like to thank Chad Netto from Chustz Surveying to make this data set available to us and Andre Jalobeanu from BayesMap to align the flight lines for us.

LASmoons: Sebastian Flachmeier

Sebastian Flachmeier (recipient of three LASmoons)
UniGIS Master of Science, University of Salzburg, AUSTRIA
Bavarian Forest National Park, administration, Grafenau, GERMANY

The Bavarian Forest National Park is located in South-Eastern Germany, along the border with the Czech Republic. It has a total area of 240 km² and its elevation ranges from 600 to 1453 m. In 2002 a project called “High-Tech-Offensive Bayern” was started and a few first/last return LiDAR transects were flown to compute some forest metrics. The results showed that LiDAR has an advantage over other methods, because the laser was able to get readings from below the canopy. New full waveform scanner were developed that produced many more returns in the lower canopy. The National Park experimented with this technology in several projects and improved their algorithms for single tree detection. In 2012 the whole park was flown with full waveform and strategies for LiDAR based forest inventory for the whole National Park were developed. This is the data that is used in the following workflow description.

The whole Bavarian Forest National Park (black line), 1000 meter tiles (black dotted lines), the coverage of the recovered flight lines (light blue). In the area marked yellow within the red frame there are gaps in some of the flightlines. The corresponding imagery in Google Earth shows that this area contains a water reservoir.

Several versions of the LiDAR existed on the server of the administration that didn’t have the attributes we needed to reconstruct the original flight lines. The number of returns per pulse, the flight line IDs, and the GPS time stamps were missing. The goal was a workflow to create a LAStools workflow to convert the LiDAR from the original ASCII text files provided by the flight company into LAS or compressed LAZ files with all fields properly populated.

 ALS data flown in 2012 by Milan Geoservice GmbH 650 m above ground with overlap.
+ full waveform sensor (RIEGL 560 / Q680i S) with up to 7 returns per shot
+ total of 11.080.835.164 returns
+ in 1102 ASCII files with *.asc extension (changed to *.txt to avoid confusion with ASC raster)
+ covered area of 1.25 kilometers
+ last return density of 17.37 returns per square meter

This data is provided by the administration of Bavarian Forest National Park. The workflow was part of a Master’s thesis to get the academic degree UniGIS Master of Science at the University of Salzburg.

LAStools processing:

The LiDAR was provided as 1102 ASCII text files named ‘spur000001.txt’ to ‘spur001102.txt’ that looked like this:

more spur000001.txt
4589319.747 5436773.357 685.837 49 106 1 215248.851500
4589320.051 5436773.751 683.155 46 24 2 215248.851500
4589320.101 5436773.772 686.183 66 87 1 215248.851503

Positions 1 to 3 store the x, y, and z coordinate in meter [m]. Position 4 stores the “echo width” in 0.1 nanoseconds [ns], position 5 stores the intensity, position 6 stores the return number, position 7 stores the GPS time stamp in seconds [s] of the current GPS week. The “number of returns (of given pulse)” information is not explicitly stored and will need to be reconstructed in order, for example, to identify which returns are last returns. The conversion from ASCII text to LAZ was done with the txt2las command line shown below that incorporates these rationals:

  • Although the ASCII files list the three coordinates with millimeter resolution (three decimal digits), we store only centimeter resolution which is sufficient to capture all the precision in a typical airborne LiDAR survey.
  • After computing histograms of the “return number” and the “echo width” for all points with lasinfo and determining their maximal ranges it was decided to use point type 1 which can store up to 7 returns per shot and store the “echo width” as an additional attribute of type 3 (“unsigned short”) using “extra bytes”.
  • The conversion from GPS time stamp in GPS week time to Adjusted Standard time was done by finding out the exact week during which Milan Geoservice GmbH carried out the survey and looking up the corresponding GPS week 1698 using this online GPS time calculator.
  • Information about the Coordinate Reference System “DHDN / 3-degree Gauss-Kruger zone 4” as reported in the meta data is added in form of EPSG code 31468 to each LAS file.
txt2las -i ascii\spur*.txt ^
        -parse xyz0irt ^
        -set_scale 0.01 0.01 0.01 ^
        -week_to_adjusted 1698 ^
        -add_attribute 3 "echo width" "of returning waveform [ns]" 0.1 0 0.1 ^
        -epsg 31468 ^
        -odir spur_raw -olaz ^
        -cores 4

The 1102 ASCII files are now 1102 LAZ files. Because we switched from GPS week time to Adjusted Standard GPS time stamps we also need to set the “global encoding” flag in the LAS header from 0 to 1 (see ASPRS LAS specification). We can do this in-place (i.e. without creating another set of files) using the following lasinfo command:

lasinfo -i spur_raw\spur*.laz ^
        -nh -nv -nc ^
        -set_global_encoding 1

To reconstruct the missing flight line information we look for gaps in the sequence of GPS time stamps by computing GPS time histograms with lasinfo and bins of 10 seconds in size:

lasinfo -i spur_raw\spur*.laz -merged ^
        -histo gps_time 10 ^
        -o spur_raw_all.txt

The resulting histogram exhibits the expected gaps in the GPS time stamps that happen when the survey plane leaves the target area and turns around to approach the next flight line. The subsequent histogram entries marked in red show gaps of 120 and 90 seconds respectively.

more spur_raw_all.txt
bin [27165909.595196404,27165919.595196255) has 3878890
bin [27165919.595196255,27165929.595196106) has 4314401
bin [27165929.595196106,27165939.595195957) has 435788
bin [27166049.595194317,27166059.595194168) has 1317998
bin [27166059.595194168,27166069.595194019) has 4432534
bin [27166069.595194019,27166079.59519387) has 4261732
bin [27166239.595191486,27166249.595191337) has 3289819
bin [27166249.595191337,27166259.595191188) has 3865892
bin [27166259.595191188,27166269.595191039) has 1989794
bin [27166349.595189847,27166359.595189698) has 2539936
bin [27166359.595189698,27166369.595189549) has 3948358
bin [27166369.595189549,27166379.5951894) has 3955071

Now that we validated their existence, we use these gaps in the GPS time stamps to split the LiDAR back into the original flightlines it was collected in. Using lassplit we produce one file per flightline as follows:

lassplit -i spur_raw\spur*.laz -merged ^
         -recover_flightlines_interval 10 ^
         -odir strips_raw -o strip.laz

In the next step we repair the missing “number of returns (per pulse)” field that was not provided in the ASCII file. This can be done with lasreturn assuming that the point records in each file are sorted by increasing GPS time stamp. This happens to be true already in our case as the original ASCII files where storing the LiDAR returns in acquisition order and we have not changed this order. If the point records are not yet in this order it can be created with lassort as follows. As these strips can have many points per file it may be necessary to run the new 64 bit executables by adding ‘-cpu64’ to the command line in order to avoid running out of memory.

lassort -i strips_raw\strips*.laz ^
        -gpstime -return_number ^
        -odir strips_sorted -olaz ^
        -cores 4 -cpu64

An order sorted by GPS time stamp is necessary as lasreturn expects point records with the same GPS time stamp (i.e. returns generated by the same laser pulse) to be back to back in the input file. To ‘-repair_number_of_returns’ the tool will load all returns with the same GPS time stamp  and update the “number of returns (per pulse)” attribute of each return to the highest “return number” of the loaded set.

lasreturn -i strips_sorted\strips*.laz ^
          -repair_number_of_returns ^
          -odir strips_repaired -olaz ^
          -cores 4

In a final step we use las2las with the ‘-files_are_flightlines’ option (or short ‘-faf’) to set the “file source ID” field in the LAS header and the “point source ID” attribute of every point record in the file to the same unique value per strip. The first file in the folder will have all its field set to 1, the next file will have all its field set to 2, the next file to 3 and so on. Please do not run this on multiple cores for the time being.

las2las -i strips_repaired\strips*.laz ^
        -files_are_flightlines ^
        -odir strips_final -olaz

It’s always useful to run a final validation of the files using lasvalidate to reassure yourself and the people you will be sharing the data with that nothing funky has happened during any of these conversion steps.

lasvalidate -i strips_final\strip*.laz ^
            -o strips_final\report.xml

And it can also be useful to add an overview in SHP or KML format to the delivery that can be created with lasboundary as follows:

lasboundary -i strips_final\strip*.laz ^
            -overview -labels ^
            -o strips_final\overview.kml

The result was 89 LAZ files (each containing one complete flightline) totaling 54 GB compared to 1102 ASCII files (each containing a slice of a flightline) totaling 574 GB.