When working with point cloud data, users still have to jump between different data formats. Using different software solutions or simply sharing the data often requires converting it to open formats like .e57. The constant conversion of data eats up time, resources, and storing capacity. In addition, this process often leads to a loss of information. In order to overcome the given artificial boundaries, a group within the 3D-mapping community decided to initiate a petition for unrestricted point cloud exchange among different software.
The bottleneck and hence tipping point to economic prosperity in 3D-mapping was and still is data processing of point clouds. While the computing power of today’s tools has notably increased over the years, the data volume has also extensively grown. This is due to much-improved speed of data acquisition and additional semantic or sensor information that can be associated with the original point cloud. The consequence is a dead race between processing speed and data volume.
Every 3D-mapping project has individual characteristics. Thus, a certain (mix of) hardware may be suitable for a given task in one project – but not necessarily in another one. The same is true for the applied software solutions. In practice, companies therefore typically deploy a portfolio of software and develop varying processing chains for different solutions according to a project’s need. At this stage users typically hit the format wall, meaning that interoperability between well-suited solutions may not be supported. The root of this problem are restrictions in exchanging data based on proprietary formats. Hence, the user has to choose between two options: a) the sequence of software is not optimized towards the best solution, but one that “simply works” or b) by using open point cloud formats.
Since quality can typically not be sacrificed for profit, the first option is rarely applied in practice. Thus, the vast majority of users follow the second strategy by using open formats such as *.las or *.E57. Unfortunately, this option has several disadvantages. Firstly, the usage of exchange formats means that a new “evil” digital twin of the original data needs to be created every time another solution is added to the processing chain. This step causes considerable downtime for exporting the data. It also occupies notably more disk space than the original point clouds causing a serious problem in the context of data backup and archiving. Another major problem of open formats is that a file may be interpreted by one software yet not by another.
Discussions within the community led to initiating a grassroots movement that aims to break down artificial barriers in point cloud exchange. This would lead to unrestricted research and faster cycles of innovation as well as more profitable workflows. Such an endeavor can only succeed if all levels of the industry contribute. Hence, the resulting petition seeks support among hardware manufacturers, software-related businesses, service providers, research institutions, and of course the end-users.
Dr.-Ing. Andreas Wagner, CEO of ANGERMEIER INGENIEURE, Germany, is an initiator of the movement. He says: “The freedom in data acquisition drastically loses momentum during data processing, where we are forced to operate several proprietary solutions instead of just a few suitable software packages. Ultimately, taking the detour via open exchange formats leads to significant waste of resources, constant need for training and finally loss of revenue.” Andreas Wagner and the other initiators are convinced that change can be achieved if enough supporters come together and sign the petition.