Too much of a good thing can cause problems. LiDAR collected data is extremely useful for a multitude of applications, but users continue to struggle with how to handle the large quantity of data that needs to be stored, processed and transformed into usable products such as digital terrain models (DTM), digital surface models (DSM), and 3D models. The basic requirement is being able to access the data you need when you need it, wherever you are.

LiDAR technology has become an integral part of highly complex infrastructure projects that can cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. The need for collaborative capabilities between team members is crucial for maintaining strict schedules and budgets. Timely decision making is only possible if the information is up-to-date and accessible. To make it easier for partners and clients to be able to retrieve the data they need, HNTB Corporation, an infrastructure solutions provider with nearly 100 years of experience, developed its own cloud-based point cloud data management system, called TrueViz PULSE* Data Manager.

“Several years ago HNTB recognized that it was not practical to store large amounts of LiDAR collected data in multiple places,” said Paul DiGiacobbe, PE, HNTB director of strategic technology. “During active projects, we had to ship hard drives between our offices and partners, and it was nearly impossible to keep track of multiple versions. We needed a way to store point cloud data in a central location, and we had to be able to share that data with all of the members of the dispersed project team. That is why TrueViz PULSE Data Manager exists.”

HNTB’s system uses Oracle Spatial to store the datasets containing many 250-300 MB tiles of point cloud data on the Amazon cloud with multiple interfaces for data access. The tiles are seamless, so areas of interest can be extracted without the restriction of artificial boundaries. The Amazon cloud provides high-performance results, and users need only a few minutes of training and a login before they can access the required information. The central location of the datasets solves the problem of finding the most current version, and a proprietary lossless compression capability shortens upload and download time. Mobile and aerial LiDAR collected datasets have been the focus of the technology because they tend to be extremely large; however, the technology can be adapted for static LiDAR collected data used in BIM applications and, with further development, other types of data such as imagery.

storing point cloud data on the Amazon cloud
Having a central location for datasets solves the problem of finding the most current version.


The system allows the user to build an extraction for an area of interest, for example, the intersection of Road A and B. The extraction can be used in a CAD environment in the office in its original size; in the field, the extraction can be accessed in a highly compressed format (90-95% compression ratios achieved) on an iPad. Alternatively, the user can create extractions in real-time in the field by making use of the assisted GPS and wireless connectivity on the most recent iPads (version 2 or newer) to locate and consume the data. The user selects the width and depth of the area and downloads actual point cloud data using his position and desired parameters. In addition to viewing, the user can measure features such as the clearance of a bridge over a road or the distance and slope between two points using the iPad device.

“At first, HNTB only used the technology as an internal competitive advantage on projects that we were working on. But over time we realized that there are many people with the same data management problem,” said DiGiacobbe. “We started offering it as a commercial product so that others could utilize the technology. HNTB’s next objective is to explore opportunities to license the technology to an in-market commercial software company that has experience in developing products such as this, to make it accessible to a broader audience.”

The bigger the project, the bigger the headaches involved with storing, managing and sharing LiDAR collected data effectively. For example, MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012. The act funds more than $105 billion of surface transportation programs for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. The volume of data that will be generated by multiple massive transportation projects will be unmanageable unless the most advanced technology for central storage and secure sharing of data is utilized.

Although there is still some hesitation about using the cloud, confidence is increasing. “There has been a major change in people’s attitude about the cloud over the past two years,” said DiGiacobbe. “Although security of data is a concern, there is a gradual trend towards acceptance. People are more familiar with the technology now. When they realize that they are already using the cloud in their personal lives, for example to store and share photographs, they say ‘Oh, I trust this. The cloud works great.’”

*TrueViz PULSE is a registered trademark of HNTB Corporation.