International Lidar Mapping Forum

The 11th annual International Lidar Mapping Forum (ILMF) was held in New Orleans on February 8 to 10, 2011. The conference drew more than 600 attendees; it is officially supported by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and the Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) and is sponsored by 18 industry firms. Fifty-seven exhibitors represented major vendors of hardware, software, and professional service providers as well as the U.S. Geological Survey/EROS and the ASPRS.

GeoCue’s CEO Lewis Graham described it as “the premier lidar event in the world”; its international nature was readily apparent in the diversity of both the exhibitors and attendees, with more than a dozen countries represented. The organizers are UK-based and, last year, began hosting a European lidar mapping forum as well.

It’s always a substantive and pulse-quickening conference, and much of the excitement this year was stimulated by the rapidly expanding markets for airborne lidar and mobile mapping and pumped by recent announcements from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) promise to dramatically increase requirements for electric-power transmission-line surveys. Also of potential economic interest was the presentation by Dr. David Maune, senior project manager for Dewberry, and Greg Snyder, lidar program manager for USGS, that provided an overview of the National Digital Elevation Program (NDEP). This program has been undertaken to identify scenarios for better meeting national 3D data needs, which “are critical to a broad range of government and private sector applications such as resource management, infrastructure planning, environmental monitoring, and disaster mitigation.” It appears that this study, to be completed in September 2011, could stimulate a further increase in airborne lidar activity.

The substance in this information-rich, three-day event was presented in 38 technical sessions and 13 workshops covering a range of topics, from a pre-keynote ASPRS hot topics session, to an overview of mobile mapping, on to data acquisition, data fusion and processing technologies, recent project profiles, industry issues, and technical developments. There was also a parallel track of sessions covering coastal zone and bathymetric lidar. More than a half-dozen poster sessions demonstrating environmental applications of lidar and integrated technologies were set up in the foyers and staffed by their authors to ensure information overload even during coffee breaks.


The session subjects were weighted toward mobile technology, with additional presentations based on airborne lidar for terrain mapping, bathymetry, and remote sensing as well as sessions dealing with tripod-mounted systems. More or less equally applicable to the various collection technologies were the sessions about sensor developments, processing software, data fusion, and open standards.

The ASPRS hot topics session drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 at 10:00 am Monday with Randy Rhoades, COO of Network Mapping, introducing the speakers.

The latest iterations of the ever-evolving lidar standards and guidelines of FEMA, USGS, and ASPRS were related by Tim Blak, senior production manager for lidar and remote sensing for Dewberry. Lewis Graham provided a comprehensive overview of the LAS lidar data standard and invited ASPRS members to join that organization’s LAS committee. Lewis also related that the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) has developed a standard (E57) for static scanner data and speculated about the possibility that a similar standard would be developed by ANSII or ISO for airborne and mobile lidar data. Finally, Torin Haskell, GISP, of Merrick & Company, presented details of the previously mentioned NERC program.

The Show

At 1:00 pm Monday, conference chairman Alastair MacDonald offered welcoming remarks and introduced the plenary session on mobile mapping. The technical sessions continued through the following two days as did the simultaneous workshops. An opening night reception complete with open bar and brass band welcomed attendees to the exhibits.


Although the 13 workshops were billed as “basics to lidar,” most were a notch or two above the basic level and were offered evenly by major hardware and software vendors and professional service providers. Austrian sensor manufacturer Riegl focused on mobile lidar while Leica touted high resolution and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches. Michael Sitar, product manager for Canadian manufacturer Optech, presented a valuable overview of best practices for both airborne and mobile lidar system calibration and data acquisition. Another Canadian firm, Applanix, provided an overview of the use of integrated GNSS-inertial systems to provide highly accurate georeferencing of mobile lidar data.

Familiar Finnish software vendor Terrasolid introduced two typical lidar-processing workflows and emphasized the differences between airborne and mobile data processing. Martin Flood, systems integration manager for GeoCue, described the tools and techniques for managing the QA/QC workflow for massive or multiple lidar datasets whether from airborne or mobile projects and in the GeoCue, LP360, or ArcGIS environments. Peter Becker and Raghav Vemula, project manager and product engineer for ESRI, described how ArcGIS can be used to manage, disseminate, visualize, and analyze lidar data. Lizardtech described their latest tools for compressing point cloud data.

Jan Whitacre, national account manager from M.J Harden, provided a user-oriented view of “How to Plan for a Lidar Project.” Bobby Tuck, president of Tuck Mapping, addressed the step-by-step elements required to execute a high-accuracy airborne lidar survey. The “top to bottom” presentation by Fugro Horizon’s director of business development David Webb ably addressed each of the five different lidar technologies and the challenges unique to each, while Bill Emison, MARS product manager for Merrick & Company, reviewed the various formats of lidar data and their derivative geospatial products. Finally, Kermit Lewis, lidar project manager for Northrop Grumman, presented a further review of lidar products as well as those generated by integrated projects involving photogrammetry and GIS.

Technical Sessions

The keynote address reporting on the various mobile mapping sensor systems used by NAVTEQ was presented by Alwar Narayanan, director, and James Lynch, lead engineer. They described the opportunities and challenges involved in their large-scale operation around the world and their research into automation of the creation of map attributes. Lewis Graham provided an overview of the current state-of-the-art in mobile mapping technology and associated software packages. Chris Siebern, senior technologist for HNTB, presented a description of that engineering firm’s experience with mobile mapping for corridor applications. Jerry Allen, mobile mapping specialist with Woolpert, discussed the importance of developing products from lidar data and associated imagery that can readily be understood and used by clients in a GIS or CAD arena.

Peter Canter, director of advanced mapping and imaging systems for Applanix/Trimble of Canada, described the indoor mobile mapping solution TIMMS. And a case study of using static and mobile laser scanners to map two mines in Asia and North America was presented by Brian Bailey, regional sales manager for Optech of Canada. Finally, a paper describing the use of mobile lidar for collecting close-range, high-resolution, high-accuracy data for pavement design was presented by Jason Amadori, CEO of Earth Eye, LLC.

In the earlier ASPRS hot topics session, Tim Blak suggested that “calibration is by far the number one QC issue” in lidar surveying. In the first paper in the data acquisition session, Dr. Ayman Habib, head of the geomatics department at the University of Calgary, described alternative approaches to lidar system calibration dubbed “simplified, quasi-rigorous, and rigorous” and provided analyses of the results of each method using experimental data. Later, Dr. Nora May, technical lead for Fugro EarthData, described the paramount importance of understanding the increasing number of parameters that require calibration in a topographic lidar system, when they need to be recalibrated, what tools are required, and what accuracy can be achieved. Further coherent light was shed on the subject of attainment of absolute accuracy by Ananda Fowler, field operations supervisor for Riegl, who described an exhaustive ground truth survey for aerial and mobile lidar surveys using a tripod-mounted scanner. His paper addressed another QC element brought up by Tim’s admonishment that, ”As an industry we fail to check basic NGS control for seismic activity.” The Riegl team not only checked out their basic control but had to replace much of it to ensure the accuracy and validity of their testing.

Michael Sitar, product manager for Optech, provided an overview of the evolution of airborne lidar technology features related to 3D mapping applications, in particular forestry and vegetation mapping. He demonstrated how high-quality, discrete-multiple-return data can be equivalent in usefulness to full-waveform data.

Another score of technical sessions described projects completed and developments underway in sensors, processing, and data management. Presentations described the use of multiple-wavelength, full-waveform, and flash lidar sensors as well as data fusion and the use of a unique mobile imagery acquisition system for urban areas.

While the categories of the various presentations was by necessity somewhat arbitrary, and of course it was not possible to attend every session, the organizers provided attendees with an online link to the proceedings so they could access those that they missed.

The New Orleans venue is always a treat, and despite wintery weather attendees flooded the streets of the French Quarter at the end of each day’s sessions. Whatever the city, ILMF is consistently a high-value event that provides an excellent opportunity to keep up with cutting-edge technical developments and to network with lidar users, purveyors, and colleagues.

About the Author

  • Jim Crabtree, PLS, CP
    Jim Crabtree, PLS, CP
    Jim is a Seattle-based contributing writer. He is retired, having worked most recently as Vice President of AeroMetric. Jim's career included 48 years in the surveying and mapping industry, obtaining ASPRS Certified Photogrammetrist and Professional Land Surveyor certifications.

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