lidR: An R package for analysis of Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) data

Jean Romain Roussel, David Auty, Nicholas C. Coops, Piotr Tompalski, Tristan R.H. Goodbody, Andrew Sánchez Meador, Jean François Bourdon, Florian de Boissieu, Alexis Achim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

427 Scopus citations


Airborne laser scanning (ALS) is a remote sensing technology known for its applicability in natural resources management. By quantifying the three-dimensional structure of vegetation and underlying terrain using laser technology, ALS has been used extensively for enhancing geospatial knowledge in the fields of forestry and ecology. Structural descriptions of vegetation provide a means of estimating a range of ecologically pertinent attributes, such as height, volume, and above-ground biomass. The efficient processing of large, often technically complex datasets requires dedicated algorithms and software. The continued promise of ALS as a tool for improving ecological understanding is often dependent on user-created tools, methods, and approaches. Due to the proliferation of ALS among academic, governmental, and private-sector communities, paired with requirements to address a growing demand for open and accessible data, the ALS community is recognising the importance of free and open-source software (FOSS) and the importance of user-defined workflows. Herein, we describe the philosophy behind the development of the lidR package. Implemented in the R environment with a C/C++ backend, lidR is free, open-source and cross-platform software created to enable simple and creative processing workflows for forestry and ecology communities using ALS data. We review current algorithms used by the research community, and in doing so raise awareness of current successes and challenges associated with parameterisation and common implementation approaches. Through a detailed description of the package, we address the key considerations and the design philosophy that enables users to implement user-defined tools. We also discuss algorithm choices that make the package representative of the ‘state-of-the-art’ and we highlight some internal limitations through examples of processing time discrepancies. We conclude that the development of applications like lidR are of fundamental importance for developing transparent, flexible and open ALS tools to ensure not only reproducible workflows, but also to offer researchers the creative space required for the progress and development of the discipline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112061
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Dec 15 2020


  • Airborne laser scanning (ALS)
  • Forestry
  • LiDAR
  • R
  • Software
  • lidR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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