Godwin got the idea for his map called “London Rising” when he learned through Twitter that the UK Environment Agency had begun releasing LIDAR data of London’s landscape. Searching for innovative ways to use the 3D printer he had recently purchased, Godwin discerned he could transform the raw data into a 3D map with actual vertical relief.
He ran into the project’s first major obstacle when he began converting the raw LIDAR data into a printable STL file that the 3D printer could read. Godwin relied on some basic geometry to convert the cloud of data points into a 3D model, but refining its jagged edges into a smoother model required some feature extraction skills that Godwin doesn’t possess. “I just took all the data, averaged out points to make a lower-detail heightmap, snapped the heights to 3m intervals and applied neighbour-based smoothing to the whole thing,” Godwin writes in his detailed blog post about the project.
There were many lessons learned in turning his idea into a reality, but Godwin plans to apply his conversion of LIDAR data to 3D relief maps to other cities around the globe. Perhaps his new home base San Francisco will be the subject of his next attempt, as he’s already begun collecting LIDAR data of San Francisco’s peninsula from the USGS. The map of London that hangs above his desk serves as a reminder that a lot is possible with a little bit of data, a 3D printer, and a surplus of perseverance and patience.