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Clouds Within The Cloud

Mark Alonzo

The International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF) begins its three day technical conference and exhibition next week, during which key players and experts in the LiDAR industry will descend on Denver to showcase the latest advances in airborne, mobile, and bathymetric data capture systems.   As you're reading this, your preconceived notion of tradeshows has probably crept into your thoughts.  I don't blame you: this tendency is likely based on past experiences of bad coffee, and a general sense that a few days of your life can't be recovered.  Not all shows are created equally; hear me out.

Between the workshops, technical sessions, and student presentations, the ILMF event will be a great opportunity for a geospatial professional to stay in tuned with best practices for processing techniques, systems integration, and product developments—particularly at a time when the pace of innovation is at full throttle.  The LiDAR sector of the geospatial industry continues to stay abuzz; I dare you to find a geomatics periodical in recent times devoid of LiDAR-based applications.   For folks unfamiliar with the LiDAR modality, most of the content during the ILMF proceedings will bring them up to speed in terms of standards, procedures, and application of available technology.

Those of us who have been hanging around the LiDAR block for a while are all too familiar with the nuances of LiDAR point cloud acquisition, processing, exploitation, and dissemination.  Within this crowd is a keen awareness that the higher fidelity point clouds resulting from improved optics and collection devices are a boon to geospatial professionals across myriad industries.  These improvements allow users to leverage the locational accuracy of LiDAR to extract features of interest, or otherwise gain a greater understanding of the world around them.  At this year's ILMF event there are a few themes that may offer a look into the future of the industry, like:  enterprise, systems integration, applications management, and organizational efficiency.  Looking into the future of LiDAR data analysis it is easy to see point clouds within The Cloud.

The proliferation of high-resolution LiDAR data and analysis capabilities is coinciding with two other conditions that should make any technology storm chaser's radar light up: the maturity of cloud storage and analytics technology, and the persistent trend of technology consolidation; doing more with less in budget-constrained corporate and governmental environments.  While provisioning the LiDAR data storage and computation requirements needed to meet operational goals, an organization will likely need to consider the evolving standards for technology deployment in the marketplace, such as centralized data storage and processing, and systems interoperability.  The good news is that standards for deploying cloud-based systems that involve big data, computationally intensive analytics, and distributed, scalable, remotely-accessible architectures align very well with the operational needs of a budget-minded organization requiring quick answers to complex problems.

Picture this:  A tablet-based end user requests the location of building footprints to support her post-hurricane structure assessment from the field along the Gulf Coast; her request is routed via a webpage to a system that accesses a data store housing billions of LiDAR points over a multi-jurisdictional area, and applies a standardized feature extraction algorithm to her area of interest; results are created and posted within seconds back to the requesting web page for interpretation.

A scenario like this, which represents a trend towards deploying LiDAR point cloud storage, analysis, and dissemination systems in the cloud, results from a "perfect storm" of market need and technological innovation.  Given this, a "cloudy" forecast doesn't sound too bad.

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