Remote sensing technology, such as airborne, mobile, or terrestrial laser scanning, and photogrammetric techniques, are fundamental approaches for efficient, automatic creation of digital representations of spatial environments. For example, they allow us to generate 3D point clouds of landscapes, cities, infrastructure networks, and sites. As essential and universal category of geodata, 3D point clouds are used and processed by a growing number of applications, services, and systems such as in the domains of urban planning, landscape architecture, environmental monitoring, disaster management, virtual geographic environments as well as for spatial analysis and simulation.
While the acquisition processes for 3D point clouds become more and more reliable and widely-used, applications and systems are faced with more and more 3D point cloud data. In addition, 3D point clouds, by their very nature, are raw data, i.e., they do not contain any structural or semantics information. Many processing strategies common to GIS such as deriving polygon-based 3D models generally do not scale for billions of points. GIS typically reduce data density and precision of 3D point clouds to cope with the sheer amount of data, but that results in a significant loss of valuable information at the same time.
This thesis proposes concepts and techniques designed to efficiently store and process massive 3D point clouds. To this end, object-class segmentation approaches are presented to attribute semantics to 3D point clouds, used, for example, to identify building, vegetation, and ground structures and, thus, to enable processing, analyzing, and visualizing 3D point clouds in a more effective and efficient way. Similarly, change detection and updating strategies for 3D point clouds are introduced that allow for reducing storage requirements and incrementally updating 3D point cloud databases. In addition, this thesis presents out-of-core, real-time rendering techniques used to interactively explore 3D point clouds and related analysis results. All techniques have been implemented based on specialized spatial data structures, out-of-core algorithms, and GPU-based processing schemas to cope with massive 3D point clouds having billions of points.
All proposed techniques have been evaluated and demonstrated their applicability to the field of geospatial applications and systems, in particular for tasks such as classification, processing, and visualization. Case studies for 3D point clouds of entire cities with up to 80 billion points show that the presented approaches open up new ways to manage and apply large-scale, dense, and time-variant 3D point clouds as required by a rapidly growing number of applications and systems.