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ASTM 3D Image Data Format Requirements

E57.04.01 Data Format Requirements Taskgroup

Version: 0.16 (July 2009)


Please email comments to:

Gene Roe, ASTM E57.04 Interoperability Subcommittee Chair

This document is placed in the public domain, and may be copied and transmitted freely.

Table of Contents


Scope. 4

E57.04 Subcommittee scope. 4

Document scope. 4

Summary. 4

Intended Use. 4

Exchange Usage. 4

Archival Usage. 5

Guiding Principles. 5

Exchange Implications. 5

Non Goals. 6

General Data Requirements. 7

Phased implementation. 7

3D Imaging Systems Support 7

Extensibility. 7

Random Access vs. Sequential Access. 8

Transformation parameters. 8

Internationalization. 8

File size constraints. 8

Scans Per File. 8

Files per Scan. 9

3D Image Structure. 9

Self-description. 9

Units. 9

Resolution. 9

Little Endian. 9

Version compatibility. 9

Coordinate System.. 9

Picture Data. 10

Data Filtering. 11

Computer Readable Format Description. 11

Licensing. 11

Reliability. 12

Error detection. 12

Recovery. 12

Test Plan. 12

Encryption. 12

Authentication. 12

Performance. 12

Speed Performance. 12

File Size. 12

Compression (Phase 1) 12

Compression (Phase 2) 13

Memory use. 13

Bibliography. 13

Other formats. 13

Reference documents. 13

Other documents and links. 13



E57.04 Subcommittee scope

To develop and promulgate open, standard data exchange mechanisms for 3D imaging system derived data in order to promote its widest possible use.

Document scope

This document defines the requirements for the ASTM 3D image file format.  This document is not a design.  It describes the required properties of an acceptable design.


Requirements for a standard 3D image data format for the 3D metrology industry are proposed.  The format will allow hardware and software vendors to reliably exchange 3D images with low software development costs.  Adoption costs are lowered by a proposed reference software implementation of a format reader and writer, as well as by a proposed translation utility from existing formats. 


The members of the E57.04 subcommittee plan to create an open source project where a reference implementation of the format will be made available to the public.  Permission will be granted to use the software royalty free for any purpose, including commercial applications. The copyright will be held by the individuals involved in the open source project as a group.



There is a wide range of devices in the 3D metrology industry.  Many sectors are immature.  Not all sectors are currently represented on the E57 Interoperability subcommittee.  To meet the desire to move quickly, a phased approach is proposed.  A core format with minimal features, but with sufficient “hooks” for future extensions will be designed and implemented initially.  The organized extensibility of the format is a key feature of the requirements.  Hopefully the format will grow and adapt as vendors offer new (and open) extensions to the core implementation.


3D imaging systems can produce data at a prodigious rate.  Some fast scanners produce more than a billion points per hour.  The format must handle large files in a space and time efficient manner.  Appropriate data compression is required.  With large datasets, error detection, error correction, and error recovery become important.

Intended Use

Two categories of usage have been identified for consideration by the E57.04 committee: data exchange, and archiving.  These categories have different (but partially overlapping) data and performance requirements.

Exchange Usage

Unidirectional data transfer is desired between two software applications: the writer and the reader.

In general, the two software applications are written by different vendors and run by different users at different times on different computers with different operating systems.

Typically, due to the large amount of data, both writer and reader will store the data internally in a proprietary (disk-based) database format.


Typically, the data will be transferred only a single time between writer and reader, and will be stored in the transfer file format.

Archival Usage

Archival requirements will not be satisfied in the first phase of the interoperability standard, but the requirements should be considered during the initial design to increase the likelihood that they can be accommodated by extension of the standard rather than replacement.

There are different levels of archival storage goals, with the simplest relating to ensuring the data remains useful over time (could still just be points) to more advanced goals such as archiving all information related to the scanning project and maintaining audit logs of changes.

Archival Usage may have several requirements that make it different than Exchange Usage, in particular:

1.      The archival store will need to be more robust over time (possibly decades), which will mean that error detection will need to be more robust, and error correction may be interesting

2.      Ideally the archival store would be completely self documenting. In exchange usage supplementary documents describing the format are acceptable, but an archival store may be found without supplementary documents and the data should be accessible

3.      The archival store may need features such as tamper detection and digital signing that are not necessary in an exchange format

4.      The archival store may need to include more extensive meta-data as well as other types of data related to the work product (such as field notes, digital images, etc.)

Guiding Principles

The following principles were used in constructing this user requirements document and should also guide in the design and implementation of the format:

1.      Reliable interoperability – transfer from any vendor to any vendor, well tested

2.      Open – vendor neutral, well documented, utilizing open source and IP, international

3.      Low barrier for adoption – low development cost for adopters

4.      Minimalist core design – low complexity, easy consensus, short development time

5.      Organized extensions – add fields in future, without breaking core functionality

Exchange Implications

The guiding principles used by E57.04 in the selection of data for exchange usage are:

1.      An exchange file must contain all spatially oriented data and related attributes that was gathered by sensors or has been calculated by software and is needed for downstream processing by other software (for example registration transformations). Both oriented scan data and oriented image data should be included because they are useful for downstream processing.  No other processed data, such as modeled objects, should be included in the exchange file.

2.      Additional data relating to the scanning project that is not needed by downstream software should not be included in the exchange file. This means that project data needed for documentation, liability, or archival reasons must be retained in the data store of the original software that created the data. The exchange format will attempt to store enough back-tracing information to allow one to get back to the original data set and review any non-spatial data that is needed.

The committee decided on the above approach after much debate, and the concern was that the inclusion of items that “might be useful later” is a slippery slope that will lead to an explosion of attributes in the file, while the minimalist approach that gives useful data to downstream software seems well bounded.


In addition to the above decisions on the overall approach to what to store, the committee has assumed that:

1.      Fully corrected data will be stored in the exchange file, including the effects of all vendor specific calibration and environment correction at the time of scanning (temperature, pressure, relative humidity etc.).  In the case of images the image will be the corrected image if calibration data exists for the camera.

2.      Fixed position scanners will store their data in scanner local coordinates (either Cartesian or polar forms are acceptable) and specify a transformation to the desired global coordinate system. The scanner local coordinates system will have the scanner at the origin.

3.      Moving scanners will store their data in final global coordinates (all transformations applied) with the exception that a global offset can be removed and applied subsequently to all data in order to make the data stream more compact.

Examples of data that will be included in the exchange file:

·         Scan data

·         Oriented image data

·         Registration information

·         Accuracy specifications (device error model) and enough orientation information to be able to determine the error cloud associated with each point (the position of the scanning device for example)

Examples of data that will not be included in the exchange file (go back to original data to determine):

·         Temperature, humidity or other environmental data associated with a scan

·         The name of the person who took the scan or performed the registration

·         Vendor specific data, like calibration parameters or battery voltage

·         Meshing information relating to the scan data

·         Modeled objects created from the scan data

·         Other information associated with the scanning project


Non Goals

The following paragraphs discuss issues that are explicitly not addressed by the core format or any of its anticipated extensions.


1.      High Performance – In neither the exchange nor the archival case will high performance usage be a requirement.  The proposed formats are not intended to replace or augment vendor specific high performance storage formats; they are only intended to describe data for exchange or archival purposes.  The creation of a high performance data store is specifically considered out of scope by the E57.04 committee.

2.      Instrument control – The format will not address controlling or sending commands to a 3D imaging instrument.

3.      Per-point random access – The large datasets will require compression, which makes random access at a fine granularity infeasible, although coarse access granularity will be possible.

4.      Work process – The format does not attempt to contain all the necessary information to document that proper best practices were followed in the capturing of the data.

5.      Encryption – The format will not support encryption of the file.

6.      Digital Signing – The format will not support digital signing of sections of the file.

7.      Human Readable – The format is not required to be human readable.  Although having software to convert the format into a human readable format is desirable for development and testing.


General Data Requirements

Phased implementation

The format implementation shall be split into two phases.  Features in the first phase shall be chosen to maximize chance of industry acceptance of the format.  The phase 2 features don't have to be implemented initially, but the initial design must detail how they will work.

3D Imaging Systems Support

The format shall be flexible enough to support a wide variety of 3D imaging systems: TOF, phase measuring, triangulation, flash LIDAR (1D + 2D FPA), various scan paths (spherical, linear, spiral, lissajous, arbitrary).

The format shall support fixed position and dynamic scanning.

The format shall support data from different instrument types merged into a single file.


The format shall provide a framework for novel extensions.

The format shall allow extensions to be offered for standardization without significant modifications.


The format shall be sufficiently general to encode the following potential extensions:

- Additional attributes of any encoded object: points, scans, poses, files, transforms.

- New image patterns: spirals, hexagonal grids, dynamic scanning.

- New encoded objects or groupings of points.

- New color (spectral dependency) encodings.

- New 3D image representations: meshes, splines, curves, scalar volumetric data, vector volumetric data, uncertainty fields.

The format shall be extensible without a central coordinator, without risk of name collisions.

Extensions to the format shall be able to utilize all base functionality: reliability, compression, and self-description.

A reader of the format shall be able to reliably skip over unknown fields or extensions.

The format shall be capable of encoding several representations in a file of the same object, for example, a new 3D image representation and a backward compatible point cloud representation.

Extensions shall be required to be recorded in the file and tracked with extension format version numbers in the same manner as the base format.

Random Access vs. Sequential Access

The format must support sequential reading of data.
The format need not support random access to individual points.
The format should allow random access to larger collections of data, including:

  • Header information associated with the file, each scan, and each chunk, if available
  • If multiple scans are present then the reader should be able to access each scan directly without reading the others
  • If multiple chunks are used to store a single scan then the reader should be able to access each chunk directly without reading the others

Comment: allowing random access to these more coarse levels is a trade-off between accessibility of individual data elements and the desire for a compact and efficient representation.

Transformation parameters

Each scan may have a rigid body transformation. The transformation shall be stored as a translation 3-vector and a unit quaternion in double precision floating point. If no transformation is specified for a pose then the associated data is untransformed. If the underlying data are stored in a form other than Cartesian coordinates then there needs to be a standard mapping to a Cartesian frame so that the rigid body transformation can be applied in an unambiguous way.


All character strings shall be encoded in UTF-8 as documented in The Unicode Standard, Version 5.0, §3.9–§3.10 (2006).

The UTF-8 strings may be compressed.

File size constraints

The file format shall support a single file up to 2^61 bytes in size.  It is up to the user to use the appropriate operating system when dealing with file sizes over 2^32 bytes.  The typical file size will only be as large as necessary to store the given scans and it will grow larger when new scans are added.


Scans per File

The format shall support multiple scans per file, but it is required that each scan be associated with a rigid body transformation that brings all transformed scan data into a single coordinate system for the file. Each scan in a file may be made with a different instrument.

Files per Scan

The file format shall not directly support the spreading of a single scan over multiple files.  However, a scan could be split into different sections and stored into different files.  The user would implement the split and merge using other products suited to compression and splitting.

3D Image Structure

The stored data shall preserve point adjacency information from the time of scanning

In the event the points were gathered sequentially in time they shall be stored in the same order

In the event there is no temporal ordering but there is gridding information, such as rows or columns of data, the gridding information shall be preserved in this format.

In the event a data sample is missing (no return for example) this format must preserve the information that a data point is missing.


The file format shall have a self describing data structure such that each data type is adequately described i.e. name of the field, type of data, resolution, bit width, upper and lower limits, scalar, alignment.


Physical quantities are represented using the International System of Units (SI).  In particular, coordinate and length information are specified in meters and planar angles are specified in radians.  For performance reasons, raw data may be supplied in integers along with the conversion factor to SI units.


The resolution of the data shall be of adequate size as to support the full resolution of the 3D imaging device’s native data without significant loss.  Each data type can be size differently based on the precision of the underlying data.

Little Endian

The file format shall be stored using the little endian byte order.  Big endian computers will have to convert/swap the data.

Version compatibility

The format version is to be encoded in the file.  Consideration for compatibility will be given during development of initial and subsequent versions to the extent practical.  It is anticipated that subsequent versions will share significant commonality within the initial version in order to minimize the efforts in creating file converters.  However, it is recognized that advances in technology, hardware, data structures, etc. may be utilized in developing future versions and such advances may preclude compatibility among versions.


Coordinate System

Cartesian and Spherical coordinates are supported.  In both cases, the values refer to the local (scanner) frame of reference.


 For the Cartesian option, data is stored in an (X, Y, Z) ordered triplet, where X, Y and Z have their standard Cartesian meaning as a right-handed coordinate system.  For Spherical, data is stored in the ordered triplet (R, A, E), where

  R = range (non-negative)

  A = azimuth angle (in radians, (-p, +p])

  E = elevation angle (in radians, [-p/2, +p/2]).


Note that this triplet forms a right-handed system. The conversion from Spherical to Cartesian is accomplished through the formula:


  X = R cos (E) cos (A)

  Y = R cos (E) sin (A)

  Z = R sin (E).




Conversely, in non-degenerate cases, the Cartesian coordinates can be converted to Spherical via

  R = Ö(X2 + Y2 + Z2)

  A = atan2(Y, X)      (c.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atan2)

  E = sin-1 (Z/R).


In the degenerate case, the following conventions are observed:

  If X = Y = 0,        then A = 0;

  If X = Y = Z = 0, then both A = 0 and E = 0.


The elevation is measured with respect to the XY-plane, with positive elevations towards the positive Z-axis.  Elevation angle is chosen preferentially over zenith (or nadir) angle so that the XY-plan is defined by 0° (instead of π/2).  Doing so mitigates horizontal floating-point discrepancies, e.g., Z = R sin(0°) is preferred to Z = R sin(π/2) because the latter could be subject to truncation error.


The azimuth is measured as the counterclockwise rotation of the positive X-axis about the positive Z-axis.  This definition of azimuth follows typical engineering usage.  Realize that this differs from traditional use in navigation or surveying.

Picture Data

In the Phase 1, the format shall support multiple spatially oriented 2D picture images.  The picture images shall be corrected if camera calibration information is available and stored in an embedded file with an opaque format (like a file attachment to an email).  The name of the format used shall be stored in a string, enabling a reader to extract the picture image data to a separate file and invoke the appropriate decoder.  Picture image decoders supported must include at least one lossless format and one compressed but lossy format. In addition to the image data, image type information, and image size, the orientation of the camera shall be given by: (1) location of the apex of the view frustum, (2) orientation of the view (y axis in view direction, z axis in camera up direction), and (3) the horizontal and vertical angular field of view.

Data Filtering

The vendor is not required to write raw data into the file.

The vendor may adjust, correct, or filter the data to produce the best and most accurate representation of the objects measured.

The data written shall be the same quality as the data written in the vendor's proprietary formats.


LAS Compatibility

The ASPRS LAS v1.1 format will be supported by an extension of the core E57 format.

The extension shall be a superset of all fields (mandatory, conditional, and optional) in LAS, as documented in:

·         LAS Specification Version 1.1, March 07, 2005

The extension shall be co-developed with the core format to help assure the core design generality.

The extension shall enable lossless conversion from LAS format to the extended E57 format.

Software may be produced by the E57 subcommittee to convert existing LAS files to the E57 format.

Such software would also enable a near zero cost solution for writing vendors that can currently write in LAS format to support the E57 format immediately.

Computer Readable Format Description

A format design that incorporates a computer readable description of the format in an external file is desirable.

The computer readable description would document mandatory and optional fields with their names, types, value restrictions, default values, and default compression algorithms.

Such a description would enable automated validation of format syntax.

Since the format written will be configurable by the writer (e.g. writer may choose number of bits in X coordinate field), the external format description does not eliminate the need for the data file to self-describe what layout was used in a particular data file.

Said in a different way, the external format description declares what the layout could be, and the internal layout description declares what layout of the file actually is.

The proposed format description functionality would be similar to an XML schema.

The core format would have a standardized computer readable description file.

Each format extension would have a separate computer readable description file.

In the archival usage case, the external format description files could be optionally attached to each data file, to protect against lost description files decades later.


Any license with ASTM to implement, sell, or use products based on this data format shall be royalty-free.

A reasonable fee shall be required to purchase a copy of the data format specification.

The use of all code and data distributed by ASTM in connection with this format shall be royalty-free.

It is recommended that all designs, software, and data associated with this format avoid use of licensed Intellectual Property (IP).

If licensed IP is used, it shall be licensed under Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms.


Error detection

To verify file integrity, the file shall be divided into segments and an Error Detection Code (EDC) shall be computed for each segment and stored in the file.

The segments shall be arranged so that the data in a segment can be discarded, without the complete loss of the file, should an unrecoverable data error occur.

The EDC computation is not optional.

The EDC detection capabilities shall be the same or better than a 32 bit cyclic redundancy check (CRC) using the gzip polynomial.

To enable recovery from corruption at any point in the file without complete data loss, some portions of the file shall be duplicated.

EDC implementation shall be time efficient when reading a small portion of the file.


The design shall be such that a single corruption shall not render the whole file unreadable.

Test Plan

A design proposal must have plan/procedure to ensure interoperability between all readers and writers.

A test suite shall be created of 3D image files to verify readers.

A 3D image file comparison program shall be created to verify writers.

Error recovery test suite shall be created in Phase II.


The format will not support encryption.


The format will not directly support authentication, tamper detection, or digital signatures.

A message digest code can be computed after the file is written, by separate software.


Speed Performance

Straightforward implementations of the format shall be faster than reading/writing an ASCII file with equivalent data.

File Size

File size shall be no larger than the equivalent ASCII file.

Compression (Phase 1)

Only simple lossless compression will be supported in Phase 1.

Compression shall be optional, controlled by the writer.

A compressed file shall still be required to meet the recoverability criteria (single error cannot cause complete file loss).

Compression algorithms in Phase 1 may be variable bit rate – the number of bits used to encode a field may be data dependent (a consequence of all lossless compression algorithms).

Uncompressed fields shall be encoded efficiently, with as few as possible unused bits in file.

Software complexity will be low.

Unused fields will not be required to be stored in file.

Compression (Phase 2)

The goals of future compression schemes will be determined at a later date.

Memory use

It is desirable that the data writer shall be able to choose format options that allow the file format to be written by a micro-controller with a limited amount of memory.



Other formats

LAS 2.0 Draft, August 17, 2007

LAS 1.1, March 7, 2005

LAS 1.0, May 9, 2003

AN IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ASPRS LAS STANDARD - includes list of other existing laser data file formats.

ECMA-363 Universal 3D File Format - primarily addressing animation and rendering.

Hierarchical Data Format 5 - format for storing and managing scientific data.

X3D  - ISO approved virtual reality description language (successor to VRML) based on XML.

GML – geography and mapping language based on XML.

Reference documents

Unicode 5.0.0 the current Unicode standard.

Other documents and links

ASPRS LAS committee

libLAS.org - A C++ library for reading and writing LAS 1.x data.

XML – a text-based extensible data format standard.

XML Binary Characterization Working Group – analysis of requirements for binary XML.

Efficient XML Interchange (EXI) Working Group – draft of binary XML standard.

OGC – Open Geospatial Consortium, web based GIS standards organization.

Developing professional guidance: laser scanning in archaeology and architecture – analysis of format requirement for archaeology field, recommends LAS.

during implementation.

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