By IAN ROSS
Rob Cormier sees the world with a bird’s-eye view.
A photographer, licensed bush pilot and commercial diver, Cormier has built up his 14-year-old aerial photography business, R & B Cormier Inc., by taking pictures of trees.
Over the last three years, Cormier has developed a very sophisticated data capture software trademarked as R-MAP (Remote Mapping and Photogrammetry), a remote sensing and mapping technology, and is ready to take it to a world market.
With a trained staff of photographic interpreters to analyze stereo images on IMAX-type film, his company can measure tree heights, species, density, diametre distribution and its geographic co-ordinates in any given location.
This one-of-a-kind technology is designed to replace field crews and has gradually evolved out of necessity.
It was developed as a prototype two years ago and the company has been using it operationally ever since. Most recently the company was involved in a high-resolution airborne survey project with the Ministry of Natural Resources using Large-Scale Photography (LSP) system (below 2,000 feet) to analyze wildlife habitat, ecological and timber values in the diverse Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forests in and around the Sault.
The company has forged a tight relationship with Wisk-Air Helicopters of Thunder Bay, which provides the photographic equipment to about a half a dozen major forest industry clients in Northern Ontario and Northern Michigan.
R & B Cormier Inc. also offers high resolution satellite imagery as suppliers of Large Scale-GPS aerial
photography through various national and provincial distributor arrangements with Ikonos, IRS, Quickbird and
Cormier says the satellite imagery is a replacement for conventional black and white medium-scale photography,
“We combine those two technologies to produce real-time forest inventories,” says Cormier, who recently returned from the International Forestry Congress in Quebec City with a folder full of business cards from interests in Peru, Cuba, Jamaica, Bolivia and New Zealand.
Aerial photography has always been a part of Cormier’s life since his flying days with Austin Airways and White River Air Service flying geologists, hunters, fisherman and government officials into remote areas at the age of 19.
After he quit flying in 1989, he started the company with his wife, and business partner, Betty.
“We started offering forest field work and aerial photography. After flying for nine years commercially I knew every forest company that used photography.”
Until about three years ago, Cormier had been using black and white aerial photography at medium scale (up about 10,000-feet above ground) for photo interpreters to look at a stereo pair of images and delineate species in a forest stand.
Today, with their R-MAP technology, they are flying closer at 300 feet,” and that’s a big (visual) difference,” he says.
Cormier pays credit to Bowater forester Dave West in Thunder Bay, for developing one of the most “demanding field programs” he had ever seen.
Cormier won a forest inventory contract project in northwestern Ontario to cover more than six million hectares spread over six forestry units. Bowater wanted an accurate inventory by placing timber crews to collect data every two kilometres.
After four years of this enormous and difficult field job, Cormier huddled with Mark Wiskeman, his business associate with Wisk-Air, and suggested taking a photograph close to the ground instead of going in the field.
They met with Doug Pitt, a forest researcher at the Canadian Forest Service, who used a basic DOS-based software program using stereo photos captured by helicopter to analyze small trees in forest plantations and took his program and intensively modified it.
Through a research agreement with funding from the Industrial Research Assistance Program, they completely re-engineered Pitt’s program to provide the kind of data they needed to do forest inventories.
At the same, Cormier and Wiskeman worked with other developers to come up with a navigation system to automatically capture the data based on GPS co-ordinates.
The GPS system fires the camera at pre-determined points, which can be plotted and created into a shape file for every single tree analyzed.
Conventional forest inventories are performed the same way throughout the world by using aerial photography at medium scale (between 7,000 to 12,000-feet), finding accessible points along roads and lakes to land field crews to collect the data while the photo interpreters come back and mark what they see on black and white photos. That information is then digitized and traced onto a paper map for a forest inventory.
“We’ve gone from having 50 or 60 people during field season being able to do the same work with four or five people and we produce a much more mappable product.”
Also in the works is a digital “soft copy” version of R-MAP viewable with 3-D glasses on a computer screen. That product is about four months away from being offered to clients.
Cormier also has plans to form a subsidiary company, Remote Mapping and Data Analysis Systems Inc. (R-MADA) designed to commercialize and market the R-MAP system all over the world to capitalize on the software’s growth potential.
He is also considering some “strategic alliances” with other firms that have complementary remote sensing satellite technologies that may team under the R-MADA banner.