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After some research on QGIS's ability to display .las files, I came to the conclusion that it is not possible: currently any attempt at this requires converting .las to .shp as described here and here.

I am wondering if there is an ongoing effort to make direct .las viewing possible in the main window of QGIS (not a separate 3D window), and more broadly, what the main challenge is from a development perspective? (I'm no expert programmer, so I am looking for a digested explanation if anyone can provide one.)

Are there any similar efforts happening in other opensource GIS software that might be ahead of those of QGIS?

  • can I clarify if you are looking to display LAS files in 3D in the main window or simply to overlay them in 2D onto the map as though they were a POINT type shapefile? – WhiteboxDev Sep 6 '14 at 19:04
  • overlay in 2D in the main window. – GIStack Sep 6 '14 at 20:11
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    Okay, well if that's the case, I should be able to get that working in the open-source GIS Whitebox Geospatial Analysis Tools by the end of the weekend. It's going to be a long while before I can support 3D visualization of LAS point clouds, but I can do 2D map overlay very soon. – WhiteboxDev Sep 6 '14 at 20:51
  • I'm not used to manage lidar data, but did you check for LASTools integrated in Processing? rapidlasso.com/2013/09/30/… – Luigi Pirelli Sep 7 '14 at 17:13
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I've just added basic ability to display LAS files directly within the main map window of the open source GIS Whitebox Geospatial Analysis Tools. LAS points can be rendered based on their elevation or intensity values. I still have a bit to do before this work is complete. Specifically, I will need to add a dialog for manipulating LAS display properties and incorporating this into the Whitebox legend. Nonetheless, I'll incorporate this functionality in the next public release of the software (v. 3.2.1).

enter image description here

UPDATE Okay, the weekend has come and gone so I thought I'd give you an update on the progress of adding the ability to display LAS files in Whitebox GAT. As you can see in the image below, you can now add LAS files to a Whitebox Map Area in the same way that you would add a typical raster or vector file. It can be overlayed on top of other types of geospatial data and you can now manipulate a LAS file's display properties including changing its colour palette, display minimum and maximum value, rendering colours by elevation values or intensity, altering the transparency, and modifying the point size. This last characteristic is important because it determines the level of detail with which the LAS file is displayed. In order to increase the display speed and the ability to navigate the image (zoom in and out, pan, etc.) the program figures out how many LAS points there are within the current window's extent and the space available to display them in. That, combined with the size of each point as displayed (the marker size) determines whether it displays every point, every second point, third, and so on. When you zoom into the image, eventually you will see every point available and the full level of detail (see detailed image below). This all occurs on the fly. I find it works well.

I still have some work to do in incorporating LAS data into the Whitebox map files saved to disc and incorporating them into the map legend. I think, however, that this is a functioning method for displaying LAS files natively within an open-source GIS. I'll post the code to the Whitebox repository today and will make it available in a compiled format in the next public release, which should be soon.

UPDATE 2 I've just released the latest version of the software, which includes the new functionality described in this post.

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • Thanks for incorporating this into WhiteBox! Gives me (and probably many others) more reason to check out the software. – GIStack Sep 18 '14 at 18:21
  • @GIStack I just uploaded version 3.2.1 of Whitebox, which should allow you to display LAS points within the Map Area. Please let me know if you have any issues with it. – WhiteboxDev Sep 18 '14 at 18:33

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