Geo Week News

September 15, 2021

New petition pushes for open point cloud formats

In order to overcome proprietary software boundaries, a group within the 3D-mapping community has launched a petition for unrestricted point cloud exchange.

Frustrated by the process of exporting and converting point cloud files across proprietary software platforms, a group has launched a grassroots petition urging for the creation of a more universal format that can be used across platforms. 

Started by Dr. Andrewas Wagner, CEO of ANGERMEIER INGENIEURE in Germany, the petition grew out of discussions within the 3D scanning community in reaction to the bottleneck effect from the processing of point clouds.

While the speed of scanning is dramatically increasing, the additional acquisition comes with a cost: bigger files, more data, and more time to process. As more scanning is adopted, more processing must take place, and the difficulties in doing so are made more challenging by the use of proprietary solutions, says Wagner. 

“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.”

Many hardware manufacturers have developed their own proprietary formats for storing and processing point cloud data. In addition to solely offering hardware many also develop and market their own software, e.g., for registration and georeferencing, which at least partially transforms them into a software vendor. Potential clients can choose an all-in-one package from the manufacturer that includes the manufacturer's hard- and software. If the user follows a processing strategy that includes third-party software, usually he relies on open formats such as PLY, E57 or LAS that the hardware manufacturer provides for export with their capturing software. 

The solution to this, as proposed by the petitioners, is to ask for software development kits (SDKs) to be made open and available for users - essentially rendering those proprietary formats more accessible to users: 

"With this petition all subscribers “driven by the inspiration of a free and fair market” ask kindly all hardware manufacturers and software vendors to either provide Software Development Kits (SDK), format descriptions or executable code that consequently allow to have efficient read and possible write ability of raw and preprocessed (filtered and combined) point cloud formats, and all ancillary data, in the best case free of charge and easy to license."

The petition, which can be read and signed on the Open Point Cloud Formats website, seeks support among hardware manufacturers, software-related businesses, service providers, research institutions, and  end-users. At the time of this publication, it has been signed by over 80 individuals and businesses. 

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