OSGeo Open Letter for Open Formats of LiDAR data
A widely unnoticed revolution is going on in the field of capturing landscapes for mapping and other geographic purposes, and it is laser based:
LiDAR is the technology that uses lasers on small airplanes to literally scan in whole geographic regions and turns them into 3d point clouds. In many ways, especially for high-resolution 3D elevation data, LiDAR is already replacing traditional satellite based approaches, and enables a plethora of applications in many fields of science and business.
So far, the de-facto standard file formats for storing these “point clouds” are LAS and its compressed variant LASzip (Open Source, LGPL, developed by the German software engineering firm rapidlasso).
But recently ESRI, the market leader for Geographic Information System (GIS) software, has stepped into the arena with a closed source compression format, deceptively called “Optimized LAS” (aka *.zlas), and is positioning it as a direct competitor to the widely used Open Source LASzip format.
The closed-ness of the ESRI file format and the resulting fragmentation of the LiDAR community and its data stores, has now lead to a concerted “Open Letter of the Need for Open Standards in LiDAR“, signed by many representatives from LiDAR related companies, research institutions and the wider geo-informatics community.
I hope that this is a step towards protecting the LAS format from “hostile takeover” by ESRI and I have added my name to the signature list today.
In the very least the Open Letter will raise awareness of the importance of Open Standards and Open Source in the essential field of geographic data, data about our planet, about the world we all live in, which should be Open Data, available to all via Open Standards via Open Source tools, not locked away in vendor-proprietary binary formats that can only be read and processed using that single vendor’s tools.