One thing I always enjoy about Esri’s events is that, unlike say Apple, Esri always shows people what’s coming in their products long before release time. Next week’s Esri UC will be no exception – and I’m certain there will be a lot of excitement and buzz around ArcGIS 10.1 – especially with the addition of native support for LAS. This is a big deal!

It’s noteworthy because it signals that the divide between LiDAR and GIS is shrinking. But before I get into that, check out what Esri has to say about their new LiDAR support.

Q: How will Lidar data be supported in ArcGIS 10.1?

A: Lidar data is becoming more common and more affordable, and we want our users to be able to leverage this great 3D content within their GIS workflows. At ArcGIS 10.1, Lidar data can be managed, viewed, updated, and shared, all while remaining in its native format. It can provide context around existing GIS features, as well as construct surfaces for direct analysis.

read more here

The Shrinking Divide between LiDAR and GIS

The past few days I’ve been preparing for my talk at the Survey Summit. There I’ll be showing how to use the 10.1 versions of ArcGIS + Data Interoperability Extension to clip, slice, dice, reproject, and generally prepare and use LiDAR data.

As I’ve been working through these standard LiDAR preparation use cases, I was reminded again of Gene Roe’s comment to me some months ago when we unveiled our LiDAR support, saying – if I may paraphrase: “The data used to have power over the people, but now the people have power over the data”. Even more compelling is the ability to do all this from within the ArcGIS environment. Just as the divide between vector and raster has been dissolving for GIS practitioners over the years, so I’m seeing the LiDAR/GIS divide disappearing before my eyes.

The applications of this shrinking divide are going to be many. At last month’s MundoGeo Connect Conference in Brazil, the main action on the show floor was all around data collection. And much of that was point cloud collection.

By capturing reality digitally, and then integrating it with all other types of geospatial data into a platform like ArcGIS, it is clear that we will truly be able to realize this year’s conference theme of “Understanding Our World”.

Whether it’s making decisions about environmental, infrastructure, agricultural, transportation, or even crime scene issues, there’s no doubt that the ability to fuse measured reality with other abstractions will improve the process.

Have you seen the LiDAR/GIS divide beginning to close at your workplace? What additional value will it offer you? …and what challenges still exist?

About Data ArcGIS Esri Events GIS LIDAR Point Clouds

Dale Lutz

Dale is the co-founder and VP of Development at Safe Software. After starting his career working spatial data (ranging from icebergs to forest stands) for many years, he and other co-founder, Don Murray, realized the need for a data integration platform like FME. His favourite TV show is Star Trek, which inspired the names for most of the meeting rooms and common areas in the Safe Software office. Dale is always looking to learn more about the data industry and FME users. Find him on Twitter to learn more about what his recent discoveries are!


3 Responses to “The LiDAR / GIS Divide will Shrink with ArcGIS 10.1”

  1. I am very skeptical about the ability to work with large LAS files in future versions of ArcGIS until the underlying architecture is changed substantially. Let’s take last year’s LiDAR collect over New York City, which resulted in over 15 billion points. There is simply no way a system that cannot make use of more than 2GB of RAM and is single-threaded can effectively work with a data set of that size. In the case of the NYC LiDAR we could not even get ArcGIS to dissolve 2D tree canopy polygons that were generated from the LiDAR (we ended up running the dissolve in FME Desktop 64-bit). Point clouds are only going to get more dense, and thus for at least the next several years I think those working in ArcGIS will rely primarily on raster surface models derived from the point cloud, and that these rasters will be provided to the GIS end user by the LiDAR vendor who has the software (e.g. FME 64-bit) and hardware capable of processing it. ArcGIS handles multi-GB rasters with ease and the new dynamic image processing capability introduced in ArcGIS 10 allows one to generate a hillshade nearly instantaneously. The big downside in the rasterization of LiDAR is that it represents a tremendous loss of data. The points themselves and the point cloud in general contains a wealth of information. We need to stop thinking of point clouds as data sets that need to be converted into raster (e.g. surface models) or vectors (e.g. contours) and recognize that the point cloud is a unique, and quite often superior, type of geospatial data. Rather than fitting the point cloud to are existing data, maybe we need to fit our existing data to the point cloud. My new bumper sticker idea, “Respect the Point Cloud!”

    I hope my comments don’t come across as being overly harsh on ArcGIS. It’s a wonderful piece of software, but it is in the unenviable position of having to be the jack of all trades.

  2. Dale Lutz says:

    Hi Jarlath,

    It certainly is a challenge for applications to cope with the data volumes that LiDAR presents. I’m just finishing up my prep for my talk tomorrow at the Esri Survey Summit that shows how the Data Interop at 10.1 will at least help with the issue you raise — by cleverly slicing/dicing/tiling/subsetting the massive LiDAR files, users can work through some of the potential limitations you raise.

    Exciting days for sure. I’ll buy one of those bumper stickers if you get them made!


  3. […] to precess and analyze raster data products – Dale Lutz of Safe addressed the topic of LiDAR way back in 2011 in a blog post that discussed how Esri was knocking down the barriers to working with LiDAR data via their native […]

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