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I will be working with LiDAR data soon and I am wondering what the alternatives to using Esri software to do this are, including open source solutions?

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What sort of things are you planning on doing with the data? For building extraction and classification ESRI doesn't offer much but for visualization and raster math I personally find it excellent. There are also plugins for ArcGIS that extend functionality. Would this be an acceptable solution? –  Jakub Aug 14 '12 at 14:19

10 Answers 10

Commercial: FME Desktop

" ability to take a point cloud that has no color information on it, and overlay it into an orthophoto to produce a colorized point cloud"


LP360 Add-on to ArcGIS http://www.qcoherent.com/products/index.html LP360 for ArcGIS™ (Basic, Standard and Advanced)

Open Source

LasTools - now has GUI

" a collection of highly-efficient, scriptable tools with multi-core batching that process LAS, compressed LAZ, Terrasolid BIN, ESRI Shapefiles, and ASCII."

http://www.cs.unc.edu/~isenburg/lastools/ (Includes ArcToolBox option)

Python Lidar Tools

"FullAnalyze is a software for handling, visualizing and processing lidar data (3D point clouds and waveforms)" http://code.google.com/p/fullanalyze/

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FUSION/LDV is a powerful and solid open source option developed by the USDA Forest Service to analyze and visualize LiDAR data. General information about FUSION can be found here:

Overview of FUSION features:

  • Generates DEMs from point data
  • Produces bare earth surfaces from unfiltered points
  • Displays image data for background reference
  • Subsamples large datasets
  • Provides in-depth metrics for LiDAR point data
  • Enables viewing of multiple LiDAR data files at once


ArcGIS 10.1 has additional functionality over ArcGIS 10.0 to handle LAS datasets and visualize point clouds. Here is a link that talks about the integration of ArcGIS 10.1 and FUSION/LDV for Forestry purposes.

The new functionality provides an efficient method for multiple users to access, explore, and download lidar point cloud data. In addition 10.1 provides users the ability to visualize point clouds within ArcMap, examine 3D profiles, and interactively edit individual point classifications.

An excellent screenshot from the above link showing Arc's profile view of point cloud data: enter image description here

Additional information on using lidar datasets in ArcGIS 10.1 available here.

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I've used SAGA-GIS for identifying tree canopy and creating DSM's from Lidar data. I was very impressed.

SAGA seems to be an all around Vector/Rastor/Point Cloud processing tool. It is free and open source. It comes as 32-bit or 64-bit. It does have some scripting capabilities if you build the source code yourself with Python Bindings, but all the tools in the GUI are available as command line tools, so I just wrote my Python scripts using subprocess to call the SAGA command line tools.

My only complaint about it so far is that the documentation isn't very good and it is not necessarily the most intuitive environment.

It is definitely a very powerful platform.

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I agree, it is the best open-source solution for lidar –  warrieka Mar 15 '13 at 22:26

I develop an open-source GIS called Whitebox Geospatial Analysis Tools that can be used to perform a range of tasks geared towards processing LiDAR data. It works with the popular LAS file format as well as shapefiles. The software can be used to interpolate raster grids, including bare-Earth DEMs and vegetation canopy models. Many of the interpolators are specifically developed to handle LiDAR data. It can also be used to examine LAS metadata, convert LAS files into ASCII or shapefile formats, tile LiDAR data, and assess point density. There are many tools available in Whitebox for analyzing LiDAR interpolated DEM files as well. This includes everything from typical digital terrain analysis operations (slope, aspect, measures of relative landscape position, etc.), hydrological analysis (e.g. extract watersheds and map streams), removal of off-terrain objects, filling in missing data holes, etc. For more information, I have a blog that describes the use of Whitebox for processing LiDAR data here. I teach GIS and remote sensing courses and have used Whitebox in LiDAR labs before. Here is an example (though dated now) lab assignment that you may find useful as well. I'm fairly responsive to requests, so if there are some LiDAR related analysis functions that aren't currently in there, send me a request and I'll add it to my To-Do list. One current limitation is that Whitebox doesn't contain a 3D point cloud viewer. I'm working on this, but if point cloud visualization is your main interest, then at the moment, you'd be better looking at something like plas.io.

enter image description here

LAS files can now be natively displayed within Whitebox's map area:

enter image description here

enter image description here

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This is an older question, however I think its good to get an update on what is current.

In a general sense, all the software mentioned here are still awesome for lidar (especially LAStools!).

For forest application, I found a new software that is pretty comprehensive called LiForest - it contains tools for generating terrain models, surface models, point cloud tree segmentation, regression and conversion tools.

LiForest: http://www.liforest.com/

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Since this is being liked to by duplicate questions I'll add my own two cents with some more free and open-source tools. First, for command-line/batch processing:

  • libLAS (www.liblas.org): reads, queries, and translates .las files, as well as doing simple transformation operations (bounding box cropping, decimation, intensity and classification filtering, and more)
  • PDAL (www.pdal.io): Point Data Abstraction Library. Can read and write many formats, including las, laz, bpf, rxp, and more. Contains robust and powerful filtering and transformation mechanisms, including (but not limited to) bare earth filters, polygon crops, gridding, and change detection and registration.

And for visualization:

  • Cloud Compare (www.danielgm.net/cc): good visualization, surface generation, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-mesh distance calculation, and more

These products are both free and available for most modern operating systems. However, PDAL is under active development, so for the latest version you will want to build from source.

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You could also consider GRASS GIS as it has some good modules for processing and handling LiDAR data.

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At my company, we use Terrasolid solutions for LIDAR data. It works as a plugin for microstaton and is suitable for both TLS and airborne lidar.

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Socet GXP is also a very powerful for Lidar processing, Visualization and also give you a whole slew of tools for imagery and geospatial data.


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Welcome to GIS SE! If you are speaking from personal experience as a user of this software perhaps you can expand upon what you see as a strong point for this software by editing your Answer. If you are from the software vendor then you should either disclose that or delete your answer. –  PolyGeo Oct 6 '13 at 0:28

Software LiDAR

I believe that a good program to work with LiDAR data is LP360 software for ArcGIS. It is a set of tools for visualizing and editing (LP360) data obtained by laser scanning (LiDAR). I also recommend the application server providing you LIDAR point clouds.

You can try the software company LASERDATA LiS for SAGA. It is an application used to process, manage and store data LiDAR and raster models.

I recommend the site http://progea.pl/en/produkty/qcoherent/

You will find more information.

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