Generating Convex Hulls with libLAS and Qhull


Mateusz Loskot


mateusz at loskot dot net

This article is dedicate to tools, techniques and algorithms useful to create convex hull of cloud of points serialized in LAS file. You can find samples at to play with.

Using qhull programs

Calculation of convex hull of points stored in LAS file using Qhull program involves two steps:

  • output coordinates of points from LAS file to form of acceptable by ‘qhull’ as input

  • pass that output to ‘’qhull’’ that will calculate convex hull

The ‘qhull’ accepts plain text input that consists of basic 3 blocks:

  • dimension

  • number of points

  • point coordinates

It is possible to use las2txt and basic command line utilities available in every Unix system to generate all the three blocks and output them together in required format:

$ las2txt --stdout --parse xyz cloud.las > points.txt
$ cat points.txt | wc -l > count.txt
$ echo "3" > dimension.txt
$ cat dimension.txt count.txt points.txt > qhull_input.txt
$ head -n4 qhull_input.txt
630499.95 4834749.17 62.15
630499.83 4834748.88 62.68

Now, file ‘qhull_input.txt’ is ready to use with ‘qhull’ program:

$ qhull s < qhull_input.txt

Convex hull of 213093 points in 3-d:

  Number of vertices: 149
  Number of facets: 282
  Number of non-simplicial facets: 4

Statistics for:  | qhull s

  Number of points processed: 172
  Number of hyperplanes created: 795
  Number of distance tests for qhull: 2430368
  Number of distance tests for merging: 3484
  Number of distance tests for checking: 3890
  Number of merged facets: 12
  CPU seconds to compute hull (after input): 0.07

and output calculated actual convex hull geometry:

$ qhull s n TO qhull.txt < qhull_input.txt

Outputting data for qhull programs with C++

Alternatively, one may need to output LAS file to qhull input format using Python script or C++ program. Here is example of how to do program it in C++ using libLAS reader and iterator:

// stream operator formatting LASPoint coordiantes, necessary to inject it to liblas namespace
namespace liblas {
   std::ostream& operator << (std::ostream& os, liblas::LASPoint const& point)
      return os << point[0] << '\t' << point[1] << '\t' << point[2] << '\t';

// open input data reader
std::ifstream ifs("cloud.las", std::ios::in | std::ios::binary);
liblas::LASReader reader(ifs);

// open file for output
std::ofstream ofs("qhull_input.txt");
ofs << "3\n"; // dimension block
ofs << dimension << reader.GetHeader().GetPointRecordsCount() << std::endl; // number of points block

// point coordinates
ofs << std::setiosflags(std::ios::fixed) << std::setprecision(6);
std::copy(liblas::lasreader_iterator(reader), liblas::lasreader_iterator(),
          std::ostream_iterator<liblas::LASPoint>(ofs, "\n"));