On-shore and On-trend: the changing state of LiDAR processing in Australia

As published in Position Magazine: spatialsource

For the past two decades, off-shore manual processing has largely been the normal method for LiDAR classification across Australia and globally. Over the last 12 months, there has been a noticeable shift in the landscape creating more opportunities for on-shore processors in Australia than ever before. A security-focused political agenda, a changing Covid-19 climate, increased accuracy of LiDAR capture and increased appetite for advanced spatial services have combined to create an increasing market demand for Australian-based LiDAR processing services.

In addition to the added security benefits and improved quality of products, the shift is creating entry level jobs in Australian companies at a time when they’re needed most.

lidar vegetation canopy analysis for councils

Then to now - the changing landscape

Why offshore?

Classification of LiDAR data has traditionally involved extensive manual editing post-automatic classification. This has been necessary to achieve the required level of accuracy and visual consistency of the classified data. Using existing classification software and available editing tools, the manual editing processes required to complete classification of LiDAR point cloud data have typically been labour intensive and therefore too expensive to be cost competitive using Australian based labour. The comparative low cost of overseas labour has provided a barrier to Australian companies competing in the LiDAR classification market for years.

Security focused political agenda

On 10 December 2020, the Minister for Home Affairs introduced the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 to Parliament, which seeks to amend the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018. In essence, the Amendment is designed to expand entities currently covered (electricity, gas, water and ports sectors), to include other critical infrastructure entities such as communications, financial services and markets, data storage or processing, defence industry, higher education and research, energy, food and grocery, health care and medical, space technology, transport, and water and sewerage.

For governments or critical infrastructure owners responsible for maintaining the listed entities, the reform would see data kept on-shore to strengthen the security of the networks.

Smart cities and post-Covid digital shift

Additionally, in a recent article on the Smart Cities website, Frederik Anseel, Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Management at UNSW Business School, noted the significant acceleration of smart cities caused by the COVID climate. Smart cities programmes, digital twins and smart initiatives are being rolled out all over Australia, with the NSW Government recently announcing a co-investment of up to $45 million over three years to accelerate the development of smart places and smart technology.

smart cities solutions

Increased accuracy of data capture

Over the past decade the resolution, accuracy, coverage and frequency of capture of LiDAR has increased significantly, greatly increasing the utility of the data for everyday purposes. This has also increased processing effort, computing resources and human effort required to capture, store, analyse and classify LiDAR. At the same time greater resolution and accuracy of the data has meant that automated classification utilising Artificial Intelligence, semantic and statistical techniques have also improved significantly.

Read more about effective LiDAR capture in our four-part blog series

These developments along with access to seemingly unbounded computational resources through cloud based processing and significant improvements in access speeds has meant that on-shore processing can now compete in terms of cost with manual off-shore processing and at the same time can be faster and more consistently accurate.

"Higher resolution and greater data accuracy and availability has started to open up a whole new range of applications for LiDAR based point cloud data. Many of these applications require specialist classification and analytics techniques that are far more advanced than that required for the LiDAR equivalent of chops and two veg, generation of digital elevation models."

Increasing awareness of the richness and utility of accurate high resolution point cloud data and the ability to combine it with multiple other data sources has meant that there is a growing trend to demand more and more from the data. Once bespoke solutions for projects that might only be used once are being applied more and more widely to a broader range of applications. Analytics platforms such as the cloud based scientific workflow developed by Anditi, have been designed to combine and reuse these once bespoke solutions to deliver a whole new generation of LiDAR based products. Read more about our solutions here.

anditi automated lidar classification

As a result, products derived from LiDAR point clouds are rapidly expanding from the staples of digital elevation models to more sophisticated applications such as:

  1. Detailing individual tree heights, canopy cover, density and stratification across entire forests.

  2. Determining carbon sequestration in natural and established forests over a range of epochs.

  3. Assessing the accessibility of pathways and access points for disabled across entire cities.

  4. Accessing safety attributes and safety ratings and Connected and Autonomous Vehicle readability of thousands of kilometres of roads.

Generation of these types of products that can be tailored for specific input data sets and varying output requirements are opening up the opportunity to significantly advance automated processing and feature extraction while at the same time generating a whole new range of entry level jobs for Australian based data controllers.

Key takeaways: the changing climate
Critical infrastructure, government systems and significant private sector systems data to be stored on-shore under cyber reforms
Covid-19 digital shift and focus on digital twins
Smart Cities, sustainability targets and short deadlines
Greater focus on building capacity in Australia across a broad range of processing and manufacturing
Increasing point cloud density
Increasing awareness of the value of point cloud data and the range of non traditional products that can be derived from it

Dr. Nicholas Read is Chief Technical Officer of Anditi. Before joining Anditi he completed a PhD in applied spatial statistics, applying large scale predictive models to bushfire analysis.

Position magazine is the only Australasia-wide independent publication for surveying and spatial sciences and is the official magazine of the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI).

Read the full article here