Working with LiDAR data probably doesn’t fall at the top of a list of possible careers for artists. With a typical job involving eight- to 10-hour days in front of a computer analyzing spatial data and performing quality control checks, most of those aspiring to participate in this field would likely consider themselves “number people” with a highly technical aptitude. LiDAR is not an art, some might say.

But not everyone agrees. “Manipulating LiDAR data is hard work,” says Anna Maria Kotlowska, marketing and communications manager for GeoDigital International Inc., a LiDAR and imaging service provider headquartered in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. “The people who do this every day start to see different perspectives on the data. Many of them really love what they do for a living. There are people in this field who bring an artistic approach to their work; they’re always challenging themselves to do something more, something new and different.”

Seeing this passion gave the altruistic Kotlowska an idea. Why not create a contest that would allow LiDAR artisans to showcase their work while helping others in need? Alastair Jenkins, president and CEO of GeoDigital International, endorsed the concept. In December 2011, the LiDAR as Art contest was born. “It’s about connecting our work in LiDAR with the opportunity to help those who need support; it’s a win-win,” Kotlowska says.

The inaugural LiDAR as Art contest generated 29 entries. Winners were selected through an online vote, and the top three entries were showcased in the GeoDigital booth during the ILMF 2012 conference in Denver, Colo. Merrick & Company’s Sergio Aguayo, GISP, senior photogrammetrist, won first place for his image titled, “Lighting up the Night,” which comprised five images captured from a testing site in the state of Utah. Aguayo was awarded an iPad from GeoDigital International as well as $1,000 donated to the charity of his choice: the Overland High School soccer program, located in Aurora, Colo.

The other two finalists were My-Liuh Trouong from Riegl USA Inc., whose image was titled “Milwaukee Museum of Art”; and Phillippe Chantigny, a GeoDigital employee, who created “Floating LiDAR Cities.” Donations to charities were also made on behalf of those winners.

The 2013 contest launched earlier this month and includes 38 entries ranging from completely abstract to highly detailed LiDAR images. Voting will remain open until Feb. 5, with the top three entries once again showcased in the GeoDigital booth during the ILMF conference, Feb. 11-13, 2013, in Denver.

Kotlowska has been encouraged by the feedback she has received so far. “People tell me it’s such a great thing—that they really enjoy working on their submissions,” she says. “They appreciate being able to take what they do every day for work and do something extraordinary. There’s been a lot of excitement and engagement surrounding this contest.”

For GeoDigital, it’s a way to support the industry as a whole and give back—or, as Kotlowska says, pay it forward.

“My team and I—we’re doing something exciting for the people who work with LiDAR, we’re having fun, and we’re helping others,” she says. “It’s just a small thing, but many small, nice gestures make the world better.”