52. Geospatial Friday - This German Lidar Initiative is leading the way


NB: This post is based on an update from Martin Isenburg, owner of Rapidlasso GmbH. You can read his post here.

This week we will focus on a significant geospatial milestone which has been reached in Germany and one which suggests that Oktoberfest merriment is due to continue well into the future. Having spent the past few weeks filling up on beer, sauerkraut and sausages, Germans can, from early 2017, look forward to a plentiful supply of free geospatial data for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. People from from other German states and foreign countries will meanwhile be hoping that it's just a taste of what is to come.


The Open Lidar Initiative

The data being made available through the the Open.NRW portal will include raw Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) data of the state and municipalities of North Rhine-Westphalia, the forth largest and most populous state in Germany. This area is home to approximately 18 million people and contains major cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, and Essen which comprise the Rhine-Ruhr, the biggest metropolitan area on the European continent.

In case your are unfamiliar with Lidar, it is worth emphasising that the release of data covering the entire state is a big deal. Lidar is a powerful surveying method that has been around since the early laser days of 1960s. It is used to measure distance and elevation and can distinguish between features on the earths surface such as mountains, water bodies and tree canopies. The data is captured using terrestrial, airborne, and mobile applications and it is used to make high-resolution maps for various applications. Initially Lidar was used in fields such as atmospheric science, environmental monitoring and seismology but nowadays it has much wider potential.


Open Data as a Driver of Innovation

As well as to continue supporting traditional Lidar users such as government bodies, NGOs and corporations, it is intended that the release of this data will benefit startups and other innovators in the geospatial field. Using the available Digital Terrain Models (DTM) and Digital Surface Models (DSM) data, users will be able to build comprehensive digital elevation maps using terrain and object classification systems to support the technologies of the future. As an example, Lidar will be used in the sense and detect and navigation systems of autonomous vehicles, drones and other robotics technologies. Think about the technology used by a car's adaptive cruise control system, multiply the number of sensors by a hundred, add in data capture and storage capabilities, vastly increase the data accuracy and quality and you get the idea.

The release of this data by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is just one example of the global trend towards making taxpayer-funded geospatial data freely available. While there is alot of debate around this topic, Martin's blogpost suggests that the benefits of hurdle-free, instant online access to this valuable data far outweighs the loss of a relatively minor revenue stream achieved by charging for this data. Allowing users access to this data maximizes its benefit to citizens and results in greater transparency, more innovation of products and services, and less duplication of resources and effort.


So while North Rhine-Westphalia is just the first out of 16 federal states to adopt an open Lidar policy it is nevertheless a significant step in the right direction. With this in mind, it looks as if celebrations for the festival which originated in 1810 will continue into the coming months and beyond.

There were rumours that the state was going to mark this key turning point for the Lidar and geospatial industry by referring to Oktoberfest as Geoktoberfest but thankfully these have been dispelled. Instead, the local geospatial community has decided that a commemorative pretzel will be a more suitable and tastier alternative.