I first started working with lidar data in 2002 while I was a GIS/Remote Sensing analyst at The Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology (IAGT). I attended an ASPRS workshop on lidar data so that I could learn more about this upcoming technology. When I returned to work I was excited to begin working with the data. I was excited by the potential that lidar data could help us automatically extract features such as building footprints and trees and we would all be able to throw away our digitizers. I was excited to figure out how communities could benefit by having high resolution elevation data integrated into their GIS. Would it help them model and see their world more clearly? Would it help them make better decisions?
During this time, IAGT was run as a government funded applications research center so I was able to create my own projects to investigate ways to utilize lidar data. This afforded me the time to really get to know lidar data’s ins and outs without the pressure of having to produce anything specific with looming deadlines hanging over my head. I tried out all the different software options for working with lidar data. I tried everything available at the time to automatically extract building footprints using just lidar data. Although the actual building footprint results were less than acceptable while working with data that had about a 1 meter point spacing in project areas in the northeast where it’s common to have trees partially covering rooftops, it was apparent that a lot of other useful information about the buildings could be obtained from the lidar data such as building height, roof slope and aspect. Combine the rooftop information with a view shed analysis using the full 3-D lidar point cloud and you have the ingredients to determine which rooftops would benefit from installing solar panels over the entire lidar collection area. How awesome is that for lidar’s potential?!
Within a few years of playing around with lidar data we started to get customers, county planning departments that needed help turning their lidar ASCII text files into DEMs and 2 foot contour products. The planning departments had acquired the data as part of FEMA collections but they didn’t have the time or resources to figure out how to get the ASCII files into a format they could use in their GIS. They were so thrilled that I was able to take their pile of points and turn it into information that they could use for hydrologic modeling, site development, and/or reduce the number of survey points they needed to collect for engineering projects.
When the bubble burst in the economy in 2009 and operations and IAGT began shutting down, a former co-worker and I decided to take the leap to form GroundPoint Technologies LLC so that we could market our skills and expertise directly. Since then we’ve focused almost exclusively on lidar projects. Over the past five years I’ve literally worked on 100s of projects, flown by several different acquisition vendors. I’ve seen the data format change and the point spacing resolution get smaller and smaller. I’ve provided independent FEMA and USGS QAQC of the lidar data. I’ve worked with the lidar collectors to correct and sometimes even re-fly the lidar data when the data does not meet standard specifications. I’ve digitized 1000s of hydrologic breaklines to produce 100s of DEM and contour products. I know the in’s and out’s of lidar data because I’ve been working with it for over 10 years. And I still think it is awesome data with tons of potential to help us see and model our communities more clearly. At GroundPoint, we are constantly striving and working with partners to integrate lidar data in more useful ways resulting in more detailed, more accurate data layers such as impervious surfaces, transportation infrastructure, and updated hydrography.