The Canadian Consortium for LiDAR Environmental Applications Research (C-CLEAR) was established shortly after the ASPRS LiDAR Committee in 2000 to support the research and development of new airborne and terrestrial applications. The activity evolved out of Optech Incorporateds early demonstration surveys with federal government and academic research groups. C-CLEAR quickly proved to be a successful vehicle for LiDAR technology evaluation and application development, and in 2002 C-CLEAR moved its base of operations to the Department of Geography at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.
Following a successful hardware proposal submission with the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHm2UXfAG7I) at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), C-CLEAR moved again in 2004 to expand the activity both geographically and thematically through direct access to Airborne Laser Terrain Mapper (ALTM) 3100C and ILRIS 3D sensors.
While technology testing and application development were the primary objectives of C-CLEAR, it soon became apparent that the greatest community benefit realised through C-CLEAR and AGRG research activities was knowledge transfer to municipal, provincial and federal government end users. Partnerships with researchers across Canada, the US and Europe generated approximately 300 LiDAR datasets for use in graduate student theses and other research projects (see LiDAR metadata inventory: http://agrg.cogs.nscc.ca/projects/LiDAR_Metadata).
Aside from access to data and help developing processing/analytical routines, however, C-CLEAR and AGRG partners were assisted in developing objective LiDAR project RFPs, SOWs and in evaluating commercial tenders. These partners gained the confidence to initiate their own projects, directly leading to increased commercial activity for private sector service providers. C-CLEAR and AGRG therefore had a direct impact in reducing the perceived risk of adoption and opening up once marginal markets for private and public sector exploitation.
Now, over a decade since these activities began and when the costs of commercial LiDAR datasets have come down dramatically, it can reasonably be argued that the need for in house academic airborne LiDAR data collection has been reduced. Indeed, partly in response to this perception NSCC recently ended its support for C-CLEAR research activities. However, while basic data collection, base mapping and point cloud attribute extraction are mature areas of commercial activity, there is still room for a C-CLEAR type institute dedicated to LiDAR research that bridges the void between industry and academic R&D activities, while assisting the public sector by improving information transfer and project design specifications.
In particular: procedures for large area sample monitoring of natural resources; data formats that meet the needs of all end users as well as vendors; training and society-endorsed certification programs; standardisation of quality control, calibration and data accuracy reporting; building national and international public data libraries; and the publication of manuals dealing with the above are examples of activities that could be undertaken by a specialised LiDAR Institute dedicated to meeting the needs of todays airborne, mobile and terrestrial laser scanning community.
In 2005, Drs. Chris Hopkinson and Bob Maher at the AGRG mobilised support from over 30 university, government and industry colleagues in the North American LiDAR community to initiate such a National Centre of Excellence. The proposal failed and the timing was not ripe for such an initiative. Given the almost 20% / yr growth in the industry since then, the increased range of products and applications, and the expansion of academic disciplines exposed to these technologies, perhaps now the timing is right!
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Ten years after the initiation of C-CLEAR, Dr. Chris Hopkinson and a team of AGRG grad students (Allyson Fox, Tristan Goulden, Neville Crasto and Heather Morrison) flew from Newfoundland to the Yukon to collect transects over the boreal forest, map permafrost and glacier extents as part of a natural resources sampling research mission in partnership with the Canadian Forest Service and the Geological Survey of Canada. En route, they field surveyed forest plots, permafrost plateaus, and glacier extents using GPS and traditional methods. This was a typical C-CLEAR mission where grad students and research partners experience firsthand the operations, field data processing and ground support associated with LiDAR missions conducted in remote parts of the world. It is hoped that a new Institute will be able to continue this valuable applied research, training and outreach activity as well as expand into supporting standards development and certification initiatives.
About the author:
Dr. Chris Hopkinson initiated the C-CLEAR activity in 2000 and was, until recently a research scientist at the Applied Geomatics Research Group and LiDAR remote sensing instructor at the Centre of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia. He now focuses on airborne LiDAR project consultancy, whilst collaborating with colleagues across North America, Europe and Australia to develop a university, industry and society supported Institute for laser imaging and mapping.