LIDAR and QGIS 3.17

Feb 18, 2021 | Lidar, QGIS

I usually try to not write about the “pre” release (technically it’s master) of QGIS. Of course I went and said “HEY I want to talk about QGIS at a conference” and a large part of what I wanted to talk about was the new release. Which also included Point Clouds……and 3.18 is coming tomorrow. Which led to a frustrating demo which is why I’m writing this out.

TN has all their LIDAR released as open data and I’ve played with it in GRASS and PDAL and in general it’s a lot. It’s a lot of thinking. It’s just a lot of points and frustration. The data is all stored in zlas and it’s a pain to do anything with since I’m not working in ESRI Software. Generally I uncompress it and keep the uncompressed copy so I’m now hording 4 counties of LIDAR. I tend to stay excited about it for a day and then drift back to PostGIS and QGIS until the need to hate myself happens again.

AS of later I’ve been dealing with a side project where elevation is important. I’ve had questions and wondered if my approach on that has been right. I’ve also been running QGIS master as I’m curious on how I can leverage some of the new functionality with clients and projects.

So my first whack at points looking like this in QGIS:

Floating point cloud which is like 500ish feet off the ground. At first I thought this was a feature and then I had decided it was a bug and luckily I can shoot the developers a quick message and Nyall Popped up and said “projection problem”.

So Tn’s lidar is all hosted here. I had to go back and read the metadata. What I learned is I had a horizonal projection problem as I had assumed X and I had a vertical projection problem because I didn’t think that was an issue. In pulling the LIDAR data out of the zlas format I’m pretty sure I wrecked the projection. So in going back I needed to fix it. How do I fix it? PDAL. Going back I determined that my new LAZ file was EPSG: 6576 in the horizontal and EPSG: 6360 in the vertical. So I fixed it by this bit of trickery with PDAL:

I don’t want to get into all the technical on why this worked and how I did it – except that PDAL has some amazing command line abilities for fixing LAZ/LAS files….especially the projection.

Here is the cool thing. Upon adding the new data to QGIS I was prompted that I was missing a needed transformation. QGIS is running off Proj 7. I was prompted to click a link and fix it. I blindly clicked. I blindly imported.

It worked. LIDAR matches my DEM. Proj knows the problem and QGIS fixes it. Clickity Click. Probably doesn’t happen in 100% of the cases but it worked for me.

“I HAVE TO DO ALL THIS CLICKING OMG I HAVE LIDAR I DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT IT” you will say. I think in most cases if you have a LAS/LAZ file you’re fine. This was a special case of me having data with a screwed up Projection/No Projection in preparation for a demo. So you don’t need to know things about PDAL and things about your LIDAR. You add it and go. It’s not a bad thing to know – but overall you should be fine.

This is all pretty amazing actually. You have this small open source desktop that can render a point cloud. I think this opens the door to analysis and other things that’s usually been outside of QGIS’s normal operations. GRASS can already work with LIDAR. Now you can look at it. Oh the things you’ll do.

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