Removing Low Noise from RIEGL’s VUX-1 UAV LiDAR flown in the Philippines

In this tutorial we are removing some “tricky” low noise from LiDAR point clouds in order to produce a high-resolution Digital Terrain Model (DTM). The data was flown above a tropical beach and mangrove area in the Philippines using a VUX-1 UAV based system from RIEGL mounted on a helicopter. The survey was done as a test flight by AB Surveying who have the capacity to fly such missions in the Philippines and who have allowed us to share this data with you for educational purposes. You can download the data (1 GB) here. It covers a popular twin beach knows as “Nacpan” near El Nido in Palawan (that we happen to have visited in 2014).

A typical beach fringed by coconut palms in Palawan, Philippines.

We start our usual quality check with a run of lasinfo. We add the ‘-cd’ switch to compute an average point density and the ‘-histo gps_time 1’ switch to produce a 1 second histogram for the GPS time stamps.

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

You can download the resulting lasinfo report here. It tells us that there are 118,740,310 points of type 3 (with RGB colors) with an average density of 57 last returns per square meter. The point coordinates are in the “PRS92 / Philippines 1” projection with EPSG code 3121 that is based on the “Clarke 1866” ellipsoid.

Datum Transform

We prefer to work in an UTM projection based on the “WGS 1984” ellipsoid, so we will first perform a datum transform based on the seven parameter Helmert transformation – a capacity that was recently added to LAStools. For this we first need a transform to get to geocentric or Earth-Centered Earth-Fixed (ECEF) coordinates on the current “Clarke 1866” ellipsoid, then we apply the Helmert transformation that operates on geocentric coordinates and whose parameters are listed in the TOWGS84 string of EPSG code 3121 to get to geocentric or ECEF coordinates on the “WGS 1984” ellipsoid. Finally we can convert the coordinates to the respective UTM zone. These three calls to las2las accomplish this.

las2las -i lalutaya.laz ^
        -remove_all_vlrs ^
        -epsg 3121 ^
        -target_ecef ^
        -odix _ecef_clark1866 -olaz

las2las -i lalutaya_ecef_clark1866.laz ^
        -transform_helmert -127.62,-67.24,-47.04,-3.068,4.903,1.578,-1.06 ^
        -wgs84 -ecef ^
        -ocut 10 -odix _wgs84 -olaz
 
las2las -i lalutaya_ecef_wgs84.laz ^
        -target_utm auto ^
        -ocut 11 -odix _utm -olaz

In these steps we implicitly reduced the resolution that each coordinate was stored with from quarter-millimeters (i.e. scale factors of 0.00025) to the default of centimeters (i.e. scale factors of 0.01) which should be sufficient for subsequent vegetation analysis. The LAZ files also compress better when coordinates a lower resolution so that the ‘lalutaya_utm.laz’ file is over 200 MB smaller than the original ‘lalutaya.laz’ file. The quantization error this introduces is probably still below the overall scanning error of this helicopter survey.

Flightline Recovery

Playing back the file visually with lasview suggests that it contains more than one flightline. Unfortunately the point source ID field of the file is not properly populated with flightline information. However, when scrutinizing the GPS time stamp histogram in the lasinfo report we can see an occasional gap. We highlight two of these gaps in red between GPS second 540226 and 540272 and GPS second 540497 and 540556 in this excerpt from the lasinfo report:

gps_time histogram with bin size 1
[...]
 bin 540224 has 125768
 bin 540225 has 116372
 bin 540226 has 2707
 bin 540272 has 159429
 bin 540273 has 272049
 bin 540274 has 280237
[...]
 bin 540495 has 187103
 bin 540496 has 180421
 bin 540497 has 126835
 bin 540556 has 228503
 bin 540557 has 275025
 bin 540558 has 273861
[...]

We can use lasplit to recover the original flightlines based on gaps in the continuity of GPS time stamps that are bigger than 10 seconds:

lassplit -i lalutaya_utm.laz ^
         -recover_flightlines_interval 10 ^
         -odir strips_raw -o lalutaya.laz

This operation splits the points into 11 separate flightlines. The points within each flightline are stored in the order that the vendor software – which was RiPROCESS 1.7.2 from RIEGL according to the lasinfo report – had written them to file. We can use lassort to bring them back into the order they were acquired in by sorting first on the GPS time stamp and then on the return number field:

lassort -i strips_raw\*.laz ^
        -gps_time -return_number ^
        -odir strips_sorted -olaz ^
        -cores 4

Now we turn the sorted flightlines into tiles (with buffers !!!) for further processing. We also erase the current classification of the data into ground (2) and medium vegetation (4) as a quick visual inspection with lasview immediately shows that those are not correct:

lastile -i strips_sorted\*.laz ^
        -files_are_flightlines ^
        -set_classification 0 ^
        -tile_size 250 -buffer 30 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -odir tiles_raw -o lalu.laz

Quality Checking

Next comes the standard check of flightline overlap and alignment check with lasoverlap. Once more it become clear why it is so important to have flightline information. Without we may have missed what we are about to notice. We create false color images load into Google Earth to visually assess the situation. We map all absolute differences between flightlines below 5 cm to white and all absolute differences above 30 cm to saturated red (positive) or blue (negative) with a gradual shading from white to red or blue for any differences in between. We also create an overview KML file that lets us quickly see in which tile we can find the points for a particular area of interest with lasboundary.

lasoverlap -i tiles_raw\*.laz ^
           -step 1 -min_diff 0.05 -max_diff 0.30 ^
           -odir quality -opng ^
           -cores 4

lasboundary -i tiles_raw\*.laz ^
            -use_tile_bb -overview -labels ^
            -o quality\overview.kml

The resulting visualizations show (a) that our datum transform to the WGS84 ellipsoid worked because the imagery aligns nicely with Google Earth and (b) that there are several issues in the data that require further scrutiny.

In general the data seems well aligned (most open areas are white) but there are blue and red lines crossing the survey area. With lasview have a closer look at the visible blue lines running along the beach in tile ‘lalu_765000_1252750.laz’ by repeatedly pressing ‘x’ to select a different subset and ‘x’ again to view this subset up close while pressing ‘c’ to color it differently:

lasview -i tiles_raw\lalu_765000_1252750.laz

These lines of erroneous points do not only happen along the beach but also in the middle of and below the vegetation as can be seen below:

Our initial hope was to use the higher than usual intensity of these erroneous points to reclassify them to some classification code that we would them exclude from further processing. Visually we found that a reasonable cut-off value for this tile would be an intensity above 35000:

lasview -i tiles_raw\lalu_765000_1252750.laz ^
        -keep_intensity_above 35000 ^
        -filtered_transform ^
        -set_classification 23

However, while this method seems successful on the tile shown above it fails miserably on others such as ‘lalu_764250_1251500.laz’ where large parts of the beach are very reflective and result in high intensity returns to to the dry white sand:

lasview -i tiles_raw\lalu_764250_1251500.laz ^
        -keep_intensity_above 35000 ^
        -filtered_transform ^
        -set_classification 23

Low Noise Removal

In the following we describe a workflow that can remove the erroneous points below the ground so that we can at least construct a high-quality DTM from the data. This will not, however, remove the erroneous points above the ground so a subsequent vegetation analysis would still be affected. Our approach is based on two obervations (a) the erroneous points affect only a relatively small area and (b) different flightlines have their erroneous points in different areas. The idea is to compute a set of coarser ground points separately for each flightline and – when combining them in the end – to pick higher ground points over lower ones. The combined points should then define a surface that is above the erroneous below-ground points so that we can mark them with lasheight as not to be used for the actual ground classification done thereafter.

The new huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only.bat example batch script that you can download here does all the work needed to compute a set of coarser ground points for each flightline. Simply edit the file such that the LAStools variable points to your LAStools\bin folder and rename it to end with the *.bat extension. Then run:

huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only strips_sorted\lalutaya_0000001.laz strips_ground_only\lalutaya_0000001.laz
huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only strips_sorted\lalutaya_0000002.laz strips_ground_only\lalutaya_0000001.laz
huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only strips_sorted\lalutaya_0000003.laz strips_ground_only\lalutaya_0000001.laz
...
huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only strips_sorted\lalutaya_0000009.laz strips_ground_only\lalutaya_0000009.laz
huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only strips_sorted\lalutaya_0000010.laz strips_ground_only\lalutaya_0000010.laz
huge_las_file_extract_ground_points_only strips_sorted\lalutaya_0000011.laz strips_ground_only\lalutaya_0000011.laz

The details on how this batch script works – a pretty standard tile-based multi-core processing workflow – are given as comments in this batch script. Now we have a set of individual ground points computed separately for each flightline and some will include erroneous points below the ground that the lasground algorithm by its very nature is likely to latch on to as you can see here:

The trick is now to utilize the redundancy of multiple scans per area and – when combining flightlines – to pick higher rather than lower ground points in overlap areas by using the ground point closest to the 75th elevation percentile per 2 meter by 2 meter area with at least 3 or more points with lasthin:

lasthin -i strips_ground_only\*.laz -merged ^
        -step 2 -percentile 75 3 ^
        -o lalutaya_ground_only_2m_75_3.laz

There are still some non-ground points in the result as ground-classifying of flightlines individually often results in vegetation returns being included in sparse areas along the edges of the flight lines but we can easily get rid of those:

lasground_new -i lalutaya__ground_only_2m_75_3.laz ^
              -town -hyper_fine ^
              -odix _g -olaz

We sort the remaining ground points into a space-filling curve order with lassort and spatially index them with lasindex so they can be efficiently accessed by lasheight in the next step.

lassort -i lalutaya__ground_only_2m_75_3_g.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -o lalutaya_ground.laz

lasindex -i lalutaya_ground.laz

Finally we have the means to robustly remove the erroneous points below the ground from all tiles. We use lasheight with the ground points we’ve just so painstakingly computed to classify all points 20 cm or more below the ground surface they define into classification code 23. Later we simply can ignore this classification code during processing:

lasheight -i tiles_raw\*.laz ^
          -ground_points lalutaya_ground.laz ^
          -do_not_store_in_user_data ^
          -classify_below -0.2 23 ^
          -odir tiles_cleaned -olaz ^
          -cores 4

Rather than trying to ground classify all remaining points we run lasground on a thinned subset of all points. For this we mark the lowest point in every 20 cm by 20 cm grid cell with some temporary classification code such as 6.

lasthin -i tiles_cleaned\*.laz ^
        -ignore_class 23 ^
        -step 0.20 -lowest -classify_as 6 ^
        -odir tiles_thinned -olaz ^
        -cores 4

Finally we can run lasground to compute the ground classification considering all points with classification code 6 by ignoring all points with classification codes 23 and 0.

lasground_new -i tiles_thinned\*.laz ^
              -ignore_class 23 0 ^
              -city -hyper_fine ^
              -odir tiles_ground_new -olaz ^
              -cores 4

And finally we can create a DTM with a resolution of 25 cm using las2dem and the result is truly beautiful:

las2dem -i tiles_ground_new\*.laz ^
        -keep_class 2 ^
        -step 0.25 -use_tile_bb ^
        -odir tiles_dtm_25cm -obil ^
        -cores 4

We have to admit that a few bumps are left (see mouse cursor below) but adjusting the parameters presented here is left as an exercise to the reader.

We would again like to acknowledge AB Surveying whose generosity has made this blog article possible. They have the capacity to fly such missions in the Philippines and who have allowed us to share this data with you for educational purposes.

LASmoons: Sebastian Kasanmascheff

Sebastian Kasanmascheff (recipient of three LASmoons)
Forest Inventory and Remote Sensing
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, GERMANY

Background:
Forest inventories are the backbone of forest management in Germany. In most federal forestry administrations in Germany, they are performed every ten years in order to assure that logging activities are sustainable. The process involves trained foresters who visit each stand (i.e. an area where the forest is similar in terms of age structure and tree species) and perform angle count sampling as developed by Walter Bitterlich in 1984. In a second step the annual growth is calculated using yield tables and finally a harvest volume is derived. There are three particular reasons to investigate how remote sensing can be integrated in the current inventory system:

  1. The current process does not involve random sampling of the sampling points and thus does not offer any measure of the accuracy of the data.
  2. Forest engineers hardly ever rely on the inventory data as a stand-alone basis for logging planning. Most often they rely on intuition alone and on the total volume count that they have to deliver for a wider area every year.
  3. In the last ten years, the collection of high-resolution LiDAR data has become more cost-effective and most federal agencies in Germany have access to it.

In order to be able to integrate the available remote-sensing data for forest inventories in Germany, it is important to tell apart different tree species as well as estimate their volumes.

Hesse is one of the most forested federal states in Germany.

Goal:
The goal of this project is to perform an object-based classification of conifer trees in Northern Hesse based on high-resolution LiDAR and multi-spectral orthophotos. The first step is to delineate the tree crowns. The second step is to perform a semi-automated classification using the spectral signature of the different conifer species.

Data:
+
 DSM (1m), DTM (1m), DSM (0.2 m) of the study area
+ Stereo images with 0.2 m resolution
+ high-resolution LiDAR data (average 10 points/m²)
+ forest inventory data
+ vector files of the individual forest stands
+ ground control points (field data)
All of this data is provided by the Hessian Forest Agency (HessenForst).

LAStools processing:
1) merge and clip the LAZ files [las2las]
2) classify ground and non-ground points [lasground]
3) remove low and high outliers [lasheight, lasnoise]
4) identify buildings within the study area [lasclassify]
5) create a normalized point cloud [lasheight]
6) create a highest-return canopy height model (CHM) [lasthin, las2dem]
7) create a pit-free (CHM) with the spike-free algorithm [las2dem]

LASmoons: Manuel Jurado

Manuel Jurado (recipient of three LASmoons)
Departamento de Ingeniería Topográfica y Cartografía
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, SPAIN

Background:
The availability of LiDAR data is creating a lot of innovative possibilities in different fields of science, education, and other field of interests. One of the areas that has been deeply impacted by LiDAR is cartography and in particular one highly specialized sub-field of cartography in the domain of recreational and professional orienteering running: the production of high-quality maps for orienteering races (Ditz et al., 2014). These are thematic maps with a lot of fine detail which demands many hours of field work for the map maker. In order to reduce the fieldwork, LiDAR data obtained from Airborne Research Australia (ARA) is going to be used in order to obtain DEM and to extract features that must be included in these maps. The data will be filtered and processed with the help of LAStools.

Final map with symbolism typical for use in orienteering running

Goal:
The goal of this project is to extract either point (boulders, mounds), linear (contours, erosion gullies, cliffs) and area features (vegetation density) that should be drawn in a orienteering map derived from high-resolution LiDAR. Different LiDAR derived raster images are being created: 0.5m DTM, vegetation density (J. Ryyppo, 2013), slope, Sky-View factor (Ž. Kokalj et al., 2011), and shaded relief. The area used is in Renmark, South Australia and the produced map is going to be used for the Australian Orienteering Championships 2018.

Sky-View factor of DTM for same area as shown above.

Data:
+
4 square kilometers of airborne LiDAR data produced by Airborne Research Australia at 18 pulses per square meter using the full waveform scanning LiDAR Q680i-S laser scanner from RIEGL
+ 60 hours of check and validation work in the field

LAStools processing:
1) tile into 500 by 500 meter tiles with 20 meter buffer [lastile]
2) classify isolated points as noise [lasnoise]
3) classify point clouds into ground and non-ground [lasground]
4) create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) [las2dem]
5) normalize height of points above the ground [lasheight]
6) compute vegetation density metrics [lascanopy]
7) create hillshades of the raster DTMs [blast2dem or GDAL]

References:
Ditz, Robert, Franz Glaner, and Georg Gartner. (2014). “Laser Scanning and Orienteering Maps.” Scientific Journal of Orienteering 19.1.
JRyyppo, Jarkko. (2013). “Karttapullautin vegetation mapping guide”.
Kokalj, Žiga, Zaksek, Klemen, and Oštir, Krištof. (2011). Application of sky-view factor for the visualization of historic landscape features in lidar-derived relief models. Antiquity. 85. 263-273.

LASmoons: Alen Berta

Alen Berta (recipient of three LASmoons)
Department of Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscape, Faculty of Forestry
University of Zagreb and Oikon Ltd Institute for Applied Ecology, CROATIA

Background:
After becoming the EU member state, Croatia is obliged to fulfill the obligation risen from the Kyoto protocol: National Inventory Report (NIR) of the Green House Gasses according to UNFCCC. One of the most important things during the creation of the NIR is to know how many forested areas there are and their wood stock and increment. This is needed to calculate the size of the existing carbon pool and its potential for sequestration. Since in Croatia, according to legislative, it is not mandatory to calculate the wood stock and yield of the degraded forest areas (shrubbery and thickets) during the creation of the usual forest management plans, this data is missing. So far, only a rough approximation of the wood stock and increment is used during the creation of NIR. However, these areas are expanding every year due to depopulation of the rural areas and the cessation of traditional farming.

very diverse stand structure of degraded forest areas (shrubbery and thickets)

Goal:
This study will focus on two things: (1) Developing regression models for biomass volume estimation in continental shrubberies and thickets based on airborne LiDAR data. To correlate LiDAR data with biomass volume, over 70 field plots with a radius of 12 meters have been established in more than 550 ha of the hilly and lowland shrubberies in Central Croatia and all trees and shrubberies above 1 cm Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) were recorded with information about tree species, DBH and height. Precise locations of the field plots are measured with survey GNNS and biomass is calculated with parameters from literature. For regression modeling, various statistics from the point clouds matching the field plots will be used (i.e. height percentiles, standard deviation, skewness, kurtosis, …). 2) Testing the developed models for different laser pulse densities to find out if there is a significant deviation from results if the LiDAR point cloud is thinner. This will be helpful for planning of the later scanning for the change detection (increment or degradation).

Data:
+
641 square km of discrete returns LiDAR data around the City of Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia (but since it is highly populated area, only the outskirts of the area will be used)
+ raw geo-referenced LAS files with up to 3 returns and an average last return point density of 1 pts/m².

LAStools processing:
1)
extract area of interest [lasclip or las2las]
2) create differently dense versions (for goal no. 2) [lasthin]
3) remove isolated noise points [lasnoise]
4) classify point clouds into ground and non-ground [lasground]
5) create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) [las2dem]
6) compute height of points above the ground [lasheight]
7) classify point clouds into vegetation and other [lasclassify]
8) normalize height of the vegetation points [lasheight]
9) extract the areas of the field plots [lasclip]
10) compute various metrics for each plot [lascanopy]
11) convert LAZ to TXT for regression modeling in R [las2txt]

RIEGL Becomes LASzip Sponsor for LAS 1.4 Extension

PRESS RELEASE (for immediate release)
August 31, 2015
rapidlasso GmbH, Gilching, Germany

We are happy to announce that RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems, Austria has become a sponsor of the award-winning LASzip compressor. Their contribution at the Silver level will kick-off the actual development phase of the “native LAS 1.4 extension” that had been discussed with the LiDAR community over the past two years. This “native extension” for LAS 1.4 complements the existing “compatibility mode” for LAS 1.4 that was supported by Gold sponsor NOAA and Bronze sponsors Quantum Spatial and Trimble Geospatial. The original sponsor who initiated and financed the open sourcing of the LASzip compressor was USACE – the US Army Corps of Engineers (see http://laszip.org).

The existing “LAS 1.4 compatibility mode” in LASzip was created to provide immediate support for compressing the new LAS 1.4 point types by rewriting them as old point types and storing their new information as “Extra Bytes”. As an added side-benefit this has allowed legacy software without LAS 1.4 support to readily read these newer LAS files as most of the important fields of the new point types 6 to 10 can be mapped to fields of the older point types 1, 3, or 5.

In contrast, the new “native LAS 1.4 extension” of LASzip that is now sponsored in part by RIEGL will utilize the “natural break” in the format due to the new point types of LAS 1.4 to introduce entirely new features such as “selective decompression”, “rewritable classifications and flags”, “integrated spatial indexing”, … and other functionality that has been brain-stormed with the community since rapidlasso GmbH had issued the open “call for input” on native LASzip compression for LAS 1.4 in January 2014. We invite you to follow the progress or contribute to the development via the discussions in the “LAS room“.

silverLASzip_m60_512_275

About rapidlasso GmbH:
Technology powerhouse 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 RIEGL:
Austrian based RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems is a performance leader in research, development and production of terrestrial, industrial, mobile, bathymetric, airborne and UAS-based laser scanning systems. RIEGL’s innovative hard- and software provides powerful solutions for nearly all imaginable fields of application. Worldwide sales, training, support and services are delivered from RIEGL‘s Austrian headquarters and its offices in Vienna, Salzburg, and Styria, main offices in the USA, Japan, and in China, and by a worldwide network of representatives covering Europe, North and South America, Asia, Australia and Africa. Visit http://riegl.com for more information.

Beautiful Full-Waveform LiDAR of a Tropical Rainforest

Scanning forests with LiDAR is done to predict timber yield, estimate biomass, and monitor ecosystems. A detailed Digital Terrain Model (DTM) is needed to accurately compute forestry metrics such as tree height. For generating a DTM it is important to have enough “ground returns” that measure the elevation of the bare-earth for which the laser pulse needs to penetrate through the vegetation down to the forest floor and reflect back to the plane. This can be difficult in a dense tropical forest with tall trees and many layers of canopy as the light of the laser pulse has many opportunities to be reflected or absorbed before reaching the ground. Often none of the light energy will reach the forest floor or the returning ground echo will be too weak to be registered back at the plane.

The "airborne sensors" of  Asian Aerospace Services is equpiied with a RIEGL Q680i airborne LiDAR scanner.

The “airborne sensors” aircraft of Asian Aerospace Services is equipped with a RIEGL Q680i airborne LiDAR scanner.

Asian Aerospace Services Ltd. and rapidlasso GmbH flew a RIEGL LMS Q680i LiDAR system out of a Diamond DA42 “Airborne Sensors” aircraft above dense tropical rainforest in Thailand. We did a short test flight to determine whether the LiDAR would be able to penetrate the canopy of Khao Yai National Forest. The original objective was to demonstrate that the scanner is able to “see through” the canopy in order to produce data for the TREEMAPS project of WWF Thailand funded with EUR 1,730,205 through the International Climate Initiative of the German government. Unfortunately Germany had to pull the funding for TREEMAPS after political tinkering started to interfere with technical objectives, and the LiDAR produced by our “pro-bono flight” has become the only tangible outcome produced by TREEMAPS. We are now making this data available under a Creative Commons Public Domain license (for download see below).

Above Khao Yao National Forest scanning for the pro-bono test flight to investigate the canopy penetration of our LiDAR.

Above Khao Yao National Forest during a test scan to investigate the canopy penetration of the RIEGL Q680i LiDAR scanner.

Low clouds disrupted our original plans but we had one cloud-free stretch during a ferry flight between target locations. We were scanning for 90 seconds at 1200 meters above ground with a speed of 220 km/h. The Q680i was set to operate at a laser pulse rate of 80 kHz with the polygon mirror rotating 10 times per second. The effective scan rate was 240 / 360 * 80,000 = 53,333 shots per second, as each of the 4 mirror facets covers 60 degrees – summing up to 240 degrees – and there are no laser shots leaving the aircraft for the remaining 120 degrees of between facets.

The 53,333 shots per second are reflected over the length of 10 * 4 = 40 mirror facets so that a single scan line contains a sequence of 53,333 / 40 = 1333 shots spaced about 12.4 microseconds apart. After each scan line comes a short pause of 8.3 milliseconds during which the mirror rotates 30 degrees to the next facet. Flying at 220 km/h and 1200 meters above ground means that each second we scanned 62 meters of a 1430 meters wide swath. This resulted in a pulse spacing of 62 / 40 = 1.55 meters between subsequent scan lines and a pulse spacing of 1430 / 1333 = 1.07 meters along each scan line. The 90 second scan resulted in a strip length of about 5.5 km.

The PulseWaves export options available in RIEGL's RiPROCESS.

The PulseWaves export options available in RIEGL’s RiPROCESS.

For each shot the outgoing as well as the returning waveform are digitized and stored to RIEGL’s proprietary SDF format. We used RIEGL’s RiPROCESS software (version 1.5.8) to export the 4,770,152 shots as full waveform LiDAR to PulseWaves and to extract a total of 7,956,587 returns as LASzip-compressed discrete LiDAR to the LAZ format.

The DSM, DTM, and CHM of the 5.5 km long strip scanned above Khao Yai National Forest.

The DSM, DTM, and CHM of the 5.5 km long strip scanned above Khao Yai National Forest.

The Q680i produced sufficiently many ground returns to compute a “plausible” DTM (using lasground and las2dem of LAStools) despite the dense 45 meter tropical canopy during leaf-on season and high humidity. Typical terrain features such as streams and slopes are clearly visible in the hillshading. The corresponding Canopy Height Model (CHM) uses a false coloring that maps vegetation heights of 0 meters to blue and heights of 45 meters to red. There is less vegetation (darker blue) in areas that appear to be in the steeper parts of the DTM.

Only 5 % of pulses emitted produced a discrete return on the ground … this is rather low. It means that the generated DTM will be of much coarser resolution than the number of pulses shot per square meter would typically suggest. Of the 250,473 points classified as ground only 30,931 are single returns where the laser had an unobstructed view of the bare earth. More than half of the ground returns come from laser shots that had already produced two or more vegetation returns and 7,665 of them had their light energy weakened by grazing four or more layers before hitting the forest floor. Scrutinizing the full waveform LiDAR might lead to more ground information to improve the accuracy of the DTM.

We are happy to provide both – the discrete return as well as the full-waveform LiDAR – under a Creative Commons Public Domain license to researchers world-wide. You can download the data here:

You can decompress the pair of compressed PulseWaves files PLZ + WVZ into an pair of uncompressed PulseWaves files PLS + WVS with pulsezip.exe – a recent addition to PulseTools. We would be happy to hear back about your experiences with the data. You could join the PulseWaves user forum at http://pulsewaves.org and share your insights with the group. Below a visualization of a small part of the full waveforms …

Full Waveform LiDAR from Khao Yai National forest.

Full Waveform LiDAR from Khao Yai National forest.

Density and Spacing of LiDAR

Recently I worked with LiDAR from an Optech Gemini scanner in the Philippines and with LiDAR from a RIEGL Q680i scanner in Thailand. The two devices scan the terrain below with a very different pattern: the Optech uses an oscillating mirror producing zig-zag scan lines, whereas the RIEGL uses a rotating polygon producing parallel scan lines. In the following we investigate the point distribution in a small piece cut from each flightline.

First we compute an estimate for the average point density and the average point spacing with lasinfo:

D:\lastools\bin>lasinfo -i optech.laz ^
                        -nh -nv -nmm -cd
number of last returns: 2330671
covered area in square units/kilounits: 1280956/1.28
point density: all returns 2.25 last only 1.82 (per unit^2)
      spacing: all returns 0.67 last only 0.74 (in units)

The option ‘-nh’ asks lasinfo not to print the header (aka ‘no header’), the option ‘-nv’ means not to print the variable length records (aka ‘no vlr’), the option ‘-nmm’ supresses the output of minimum and maximum point values (aka ‘no min max’), and the option ‘-cd’ requests that an average point density is computed (aka ‘compute density’) from which the average point spacing is derived.

D:\lastools\bin>lasinfo -i riegl.laz ^
                        -nh -nv -nmm -cd
number of last returns: 3707217
covered area in square units/kilounits: 889816/0.89
point density: all returns 4.58 last only 4.17 (per unit^2)
      spacing: all returns 0.47 last only 0.49 (in units)

What we really want to know are pulse density and pulse spacing which we get by only counting one return from every pulse. Commonly one uses the last return, which is reported as ‘last only’ values by lasinfo. According to lasinfo the Optech and the RIEGL scan have an average pulse density of 1.82 and 4.17 [pulses per square meter] and an average pulse spacing of 0.74 and 0.49 [meters] respectively.

Single number averages do not capture anything about the actual distribution of the last returns in the swath of the scan. Let us compute density rasters with lasgrid. Because the density of the two scans is different we use 3 by 3 meter cells for the Optech, which should average 3 * 3 * 1.82 = 16.38 points per cell, and 2 by 2 meter cells for the RIEGL, which should average 2 * 2 * 4.17 = 16.68 points per cell.

lasgrid -i optech.laz -last_only ^
        -density -step 3 ^
        -odix _density3x3 -obil
lasview -i optech_density3x3.bil

lasgrid -i riegl.laz -last_only ^
        -density -step 2 ^
        -odix _density2x2 -obil
lasview -i riegl_density2x2.bil

A visual comparison of the two resulting density rasters in BIL format with lasview shows first differences in pulse distribution for the two scanners.

Using 'lasview' to inspect a BIL density raster: Elevation and colors show number of points per 3 by 3 meter cell for Optech (top) and per 2 by 2 meter cell for RIEGL (bottom).

Using ‘lasview’ to inspect a BIL density raster: Elevations and colors illustrate the number of last returns per 3 by 3 meter cell for Optech (top) and per 2 by 2 meter cell for RIEGL (bottom). The images use differently scaled color ramps.

It is noticable that the number of last returns per cell increases at the edges of the swath for the Optech whereas it decreases for the RIEGL. For the Optech it is higher due to the slowing down of the oscillating mirror and the reversing of scan direction when reaching either side of the scanline. This decreases the distances between pulses at the edges of the zig-zag scan and increases the number of last returns falling into cells there. For the rotating polygon scan of the RIEGL these pulse distances are more uniform. Here the numbers are lower because many cells along the edges of the swath are only partly covered by the scan and therefore receive fewer last returns.

lasgrid -i optech.laz -last_only ^
        -density -step 3 ^
        -false -set_min_max 0 20 ^
        -odix _density3x3 -opng

lasgrid -i riegl.laz -last_only ^
        -density -step 2 ^
        -false -set_min_max 0 20 ^
        -odix _density2x2 -opng

Here another visualization of the pulse distribution by letting lasgrid false-color density rasters to a fixed range of 0 to 20. This range is based on the near identical expected values of around 16.38 and 16.68 last returns per cell based on the average densities that lasinfo reported and the cell sized used here.

A more quantitative check of how well distributed the pulse are is to generate histograms. You can use lasinfo with the ‘-histo z 1’ option to print a histogram of the z values of the BIL rasters and import these statistics into your favorite software to create a chart.

lasinfo -i optech_density3x3.bil ^
        -nh -nv -nmm -histo z 1
lasinfo -i riegl_density2x2.bil ^
        -nh -nv -nmm -histo z 1

Both distributions have their peaks at the expected 16 to 17 last returns per cell although the Optech distribution has a significantly wider spead. The odd two-peak distribution of the Optech scan seems puzzling at first but looking at the density image shows that this is an aliasing artifact of putting a fixed 3 by 3 meter grid over zig-zagging scanlines.

The next experiments uses the new ‘-edge_shortest’ and ‘-edge_longest’ options available in las2dem that compute for each point the length of its shortest or longest edge in a Delaunay triangulation and then rasters these lengths. Below you see the command lines to do this and generate histograms of the rastered edge lengths.

las2dem -i optech.laz -last_only ^
        -step 1.5 ^
        -edge_longest ^
        -odix _edge_longest -obil
lasinfo -i optech_edge_longest.bil ^
        -nh -nv -nmm -histo z 0.1 ^
        -o optech_edge_shortest_0_10.txt
las2dem -i optech.laz -last_only ^
        -step 1.5 ^
        -edge_shortest ^
        -odix _edge_shortest -obil
lasinfo -i optech_edge_shortest.bil ^
        -nh -nv -nmm -histo z 0.05 ^
        -o optech_edge_shortest_0_05.txt
las2dem -i riegl.laz -last_only ^
        -edge_longest ^
        -odix _edge_longest -obil
lasinfo -i riegl_edge_longest.bil ^
        -nh -nv -nmm -histo z 0.05 ^
        -o riegl_edge_longest_0_05.txt
las2dem -i riegl.laz -last_only ^
        -edge_shortest ^
        -odix _edge_shortest -obil
lasinfo -i riegl_edge_shortest.bil ^
        -nh -nv -nmm -histo z 0.05 ^
        -o riegl_edge_shortest_0_05.txt

These resulting histograms do look quite different.

The more important histograms are those of longest edge lengths. They illustrate the observed spacing between pulses showing us the maximal distance of each pulse from its surrounding pulses. A perfect pulse distribution that samples the ground evenly in all directions would have one narrow peak. The Optech scan is far from this ideal with a wide and flat peak that tells us that pulses are spaced apart anywhere from 1.2 to 2.2 meters. Visualizing the scan pattern shows that the 2.2 meter spacings happen at the tips of zig-zag and the 1.2 meter spacings at nadir. The RIEGL scan has much narrower peak with most pulses spaced apart at most 60 to 80 centimeters.

The histograms of shortest edge lengths illustrate how close pulses are spaced. Again, it helps to visualize the zig-zag scan pattern to explain the odd distribution of shortest edge lengths in the Optech scan: as we get closer to the edges of the flightline the pulse spacing along the scanline becomes increasingly dense. This is represented on the left side in the histogram that is slowly leveling off to zero. Again, the RIEGL scan has a narrower peak with most pulses spaced no closer than 35 to 55 centimeters.

To confirm our findings we illustrate where the scanners produce longest or shortest edges using ranges that we find in the histograms above and create false-colored rasters:

las2dem -i optech.laz -last_only ^
        -step 1.5 -edge_longest ^
        -false -set_min_max 1 2.5 ^
        -odix _edge_longest -opng
las2dem -i optech.laz -last_only ^
        -step 1.5 -edge_shortest ^
        -false -set_min_max 0 0.7 ^
        -odix _edge_shortest -opng
las2dem -i riegl.laz -last_only ^
        -edge_longest ^
        -false -set_min_max 0.5 1.0 ^
        -odix _edge_longest -opng
las2dem -i riegl.laz -last_only ^
        -edge_shortest ^
        -false -set_min_max 0.1 0.7 ^
        -odix _edge_shortest -opng

The color-codings clearly illustrate that the Optech has a much wider pulse spacing on both edges of the flightline but also a much narrower pulse spacing. That reads contradictory but one are the “within-zig-zag” spacings and the other are the “between-zig-zag” spacings. The RIEGL has an overall much more even distribution in pulse spacings.

As a final confirmation to what causes the pulse spacings to be both widest and narrowest at the edges of the flightline for the Optech scan we scrutinizing the distribution of last returns and their triangulation visually.

Now it should be clear. At the edge of the flightline the Optech scanner has increasingly close-spaced pulses within each zig-zagging scan line but also increasingly distant-spaced pulses between subsequent pairs of zig-zagging scanlines. At the very edge of the flightline the scanner is almost sampling a “linear area” twice but leaves unsampled gaps that are twice as wide as in the center of the flightline. I believe this is one of the reasons why people “cut off” the edges of the flightlines based on the scan angle when using oscillating mirror systems. Now let’s took at the RIEGL.

There is no obvious difference in pulse distribution at the edges and the center of the flightline. The entire width of the swath seems more or less evenly sampled.

The above results show that “average point density” and “average point spacing” do not capture the whole picture. A quality check that properly verifies that a scan has the desired point / pulse density and spacing should measure the actual spacings – especially when operating a scanner with oscillating mirrors. We have done it here by computing for each last return its longest surrounding edge in the Delaunay triangulation, rasterizing these edge length, and then generating a histogram of the raster values.

 

Good follow-up reads are Dr. Ullrich’s “Impact of point distribution on information content of point clouds of airborne LiDAR” presented at ELMF 2013 and “Assessing the Information Content of LiDAR Point Clouds” from PhoWo 2013.