Optech ILSC 2011

Once again this year, Toronto played host to Optech’s ILSC, or Innovative Lidar Solutions Conference. Optech’s history with lidar dates back to the early 1990s, and their current company tagline is “The Lidar Company,” though there is a subtle twist to this. Together with the wide range of markets they serve, it seems fitting that their conference showcases lidar and related technologies applied in a variety of innovative ways.

The inaugural conference was held in 2009 and, according to Brent Gelhar, VP for sales and product strategy, Optech’s plan is to continue with their conference on an 18-24 month schedule. The conference location again this year was right around the corner from Optech’s headquarters, which was fortunate for me as it allowed a quick tour of their facilities. Gelhar directed me during a thorough and informative visit through the building recently purpose-built by Optech to house the headquarters of their global operations. One thing that struck me about the facility was the orderly nature of things; each area had its particular purpose, whether R&D, testing, or admin, and most areas were uncluttered with employees focused on their objectives.
Most interesting were the elaborate testing and calibration areas, including a rather “mysterious” range testing facility that makes excellent use of available space. But back to the conference…

The “unofficial” kick-off to the conference was a day of paid training for existing Optech customers and users. The sessions I attended were fairly small groups that provided for personal interaction between the attendees and the Optech trainers.

As I mentioned, Optech’s products cover a wide range of markets, from aerial to mobile to terrestrial markets (and even underground), and the conference was divided generally into tracks corresponding to these market segments. This, of course, is helpful for attendees who prefer to focus on their particular segment; however, participants could easily attend any sessions that caught their interest.

Gelhar noted that Optech’s equipment can be found “on all seven continents—and on Mars!” (a result of their work with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA), and the conference reflected this fact. Presenters and attendees alike hailed from around the globe, giving the show an international feel. This allowed attendees to see what, and how, things are being done across a variety of geographic locations, and from a wide range of users: everything from government and institutional groups to private companies, from hardware and software vendors to service providers.

The wide-ranging technical sessions were interspersed with a variety of keynote presentations, starting with the opening breakfast with Optech president, Don Carswell. The twist I alluded to became evident during Carswell’s presentation. Although it’s historically known as “The Lidar Company,” Carswell stated that Optech is “in the imagery business” and that lidar is just one form of imagery. He indicated that Optech’s mission is to provide sensors, whether passive or active, to provide the highest quality image—lidar, multi-spectral, etc.—whichever the best tool may be.

In keeping with this philosophy, over the course of the past year Optech has acquired two photogrammetric camera companies: DiMAC (Belgium) and Geospatial Systems, Inc. (USA). In addition, early word emerged at the conference of collaboration between Optech and software provider Cardinal Systems, involving their VR photogrammetric and lidar mapping software. This joint initiative has since been officially announced. These acquisitions and collaborations seem to follow the current trends in the surveying and mapping fields of consolidation among manufacturers and suppliers and convergence of multiple technologies into integrated systems.

Also at the conference, Optech announced the release of their new Aquarius sensor, which allows mapping of ground surfaces and shallow water bodies from a single, lower cost, mapping system. Word from several traditional aerial mapping companies in attendance indicated the new sensor could potentially broaden their product offerings and open the door to new business for them. An exciting prospect in these difficult times.

As Brent Gelhar expressed, the Innovative Lidar Solutions Conference is an opportunity for interaction between Optech and their community. And, as the name implies, it’s all about innovation and providing applications and solutions of cutting-edge measurement and visualization tools that are quickly moving into the mainstream.

About the Author

  • TJ Frazier, LS
    TJ Frazier, LS
    TJ Frazier is the magazine's editor for surveying and has more than 20 years experience in the surveying profession, currently as senior land surveyor for VanMar Associates in Mt. Airy, Md. He also worked in survey equipment sales for Loyola Spatial Systems, now part of Leica Geosystems. He earned a bachelor of sciences degree in business at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. He is married and has two daughters. Frazier can be reached at tj@profsurv.com.

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