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? Aug 14, 2012 at 14:19

12 Answers 12


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/


lidR is a great package in R for forestry applications.

From the GitHub lidR documentation:

R package for Airborne LiDAR Data Manipulation and Visualization for Forestry Applications

The lidR package provides functions to read and write .las and .laz files, plot point clouds, compute metrics using an area-based approach, compute digital canopy models, thin lidar data, manage a catalog of datasets, automatically extract ground inventories, process a set of tiles using multicore processing, individual tree segmentation, classify data from geographic data, and provides other tools to manipulate LiDAR data in a research and development context.

Read and display a las file

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Compute a canopy height model

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Read and display a catalog of las files

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Individual tree segmentation

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Wall-to-wall dataset processing

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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

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.

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

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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.


Since this is being linked to by https://gis.stackexchange.com/questions/132591 (since deleted) 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.


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

R also has some packages to process LiDAR. If you have a small LiDAR dataset, the recently released rLiDAR package might be of interest. It has been specifically designed for forest inventory applications, and provides the functionality to read, process and visualise small LiDAR datasets. Additionally, the R package, MBA (Multilevel B-spline Approximation), provides options for interpolating LiDAR data, an example of which is provided in this presentation on Slides 46-48.

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    lidR is another useful R package.
    – Aaron
    Aug 11, 2017 at 8:36
  • There is also the brand new package TreeLS for working with terrestrial point clouds (forestry context). Mar 14, 2019 at 16:24

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/


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.


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, 2013 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.


I work with Geo-Plus VisionLiDAR. I recommend this app to manage huge point clouds (I work with more than 5 billion points and it's really smooth ...

I know that Geo-Plus can offer different features depending on what you need, so it's better to contact them and see what they can give you if you have a special request.

I tried VisionLiDAR for free and enjoyed it. So, you can do the same.

Here is the link to the software page : [http://www.geo-plus.com/visionlidar_lidar_software/]

And the link to the free trial : [http://www.geo-plus.com/get-trial/]

That way, you can find more info and see if it fits your needs.


Since none of the posters have mentioned it yet, there is also software to help you put your point clouds on a website (check SceneMark). You can do animations, simple measurements and use 3D models in your presentations. Or you can also produce nice videos based on your scanning data.

  • 1
    Are you associated with SceneMark?
    – Aaron
    Jan 8, 2016 at 18:31

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