Shortly after Martin Isenberg’s death, I was privileged to be asked to share a few words in memory of Martin and his contribution to the use of lidar in archaeology at the Aerial Archaeology Research Group conference (17th September 2021). I have posted my words here to capture a small part of his legacy and my gratitude.
“I was deeply saddened to hear that Martin Isenberg, inventor of LAStools and long time friend to “archaeologists that love lasers” has died this week. I wanted to share a few words with the group in memory of Martin and his contributions.
Described as an “open source powerhouse”, Martin was generous in sharing the results of his incredible intellect, enabling free access to the level of lidar point cloud processing that most of us could never dream of having a proprietary budget for. He was an astute problem solver and data wizard, but ever atypical (some might say contrary) this computer scientist was a passionate environmentalist and embedded humanity through his work.
When I took at look at the LAStools documentation to check when he began development, it was moving to see that it all began in 2007 with the creations of LASzip and LASreader after picking flowers and repairing vacuum cleaners in the garden.
Martin lead an interesting life, it was his falling out with US authorities that led to the foundation of Rapidlasso, and years spent traveling the world enjoying teaching, coding, cocktails and paddleboarding in equal measure. He was a fierce advocate of open data, fond of pointing out the fallacy of closed lidar repositories including our own Environment Agency archive. He wasn’t intimidated by hand to hand combat with the giants calling out bad behaviour by ESRI and Cyark among others over the years. He wasn’t afraid to stand up and never backed down where he perceived injustice or malpractice was involved.
Rarely seen without his coffee flask in hand, Martin also campaigned for the conferences and meetings he so frequently attended to switch away from single use and plastic and was successful in raising awareness and changing practices.
Martin cared deeply about sharing his knowledge with students and his LASmoons program helped over 40 project to access the full version of his software for free for research and training. As can be seen from Wlodek’s photos from the 2014 LITA 2 course where he co-taught the lidar module with me, Martin always paid attention. This meant that he was perhaps uniquely able to apply his specialist knowledge to the problems of other disciplines, including forestry and archaeology.
Over the course of one afternoon teaching in a lab in Poznan together, we hacked an automated archaeological feature extraction routine from the point cloud to shapefile. I’m ashamed to say I never had the time to work up our proof of concept into a more meaningful study.
The circumstances of 2020 hit Martin hard. While he had grown tired of being a full-time global citizen and wished to spend many more months of the year tending his plot in Samara, the curtailment of freedom to travel and pressures of a global pandemic led to rapid and prolonged deterioration of his health. His death is a huge loss, not just to the world of lasers but to the scientific community at large to whom he gave so much through his software, his tutorials, his passion and his insight.
Though the end was dark, there has been much light along the way and so I’d like to end this tribute by raising my reusable mug to Martin Isenberg.”