‘Raw’ laser data can build better city models

The Environment Agency is releasing 175,000 square kilometres of ‘raw’ laser mapping data that can help to make realistic models of cities.

LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveys are carried out by the Environment Agency to help with flood modelling and tracking changing coastal habitats. These aerial surveys collect hundreds of millions (sometimes billions) of point heights from bouncing a laser off the landscape. Three-dimensional ‘point cloud’ data is now being made freely available for any use and can help to build highly-detailed models of urban environments.

The release of LIDAR point cloud data began in March 2016 and by the end of July the Environment Agency aims to make all 725 gigabytes of its point cloud archive, covering 175,000 square kilometres of England, available on DATA.GOV.UK.

In January this year start-up Emu Analytics used Environment Agency LIDAR data in an interactive map enabling people to easily see heights of buildings across London and at the end of June released a similar map using the data showing building heights across the majority of England.

Jonathan Smith, head of data insight at Emu Analytics, said: “Point cloud data is a step up in terms of the level of detail we can achieve in modelling infrastructure and the natural environment. With the detail it provides we will be able to open up new use cases and offerings such as providing clutter data for line-of-site broadband companies or calculating the shadows nearby buildings would cast on a proposed array of solar panels.

“In general the whole Open Defra ecosystem, within which point cloud sits, allows start-ups such as ourselves to easily work with the data, enrich it, and where possible, provide it back to the open data community.”

With point cloud data users can create their own customised elevation models incorporating additional information about the type of ground feature (vegetation or hard surface) being surveyed, or the time the survey was conducted.

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