Last week, I attended the Earth Observation (EO) Summit in Montreal. It was a gathering of over 600 people from 22 countries with backgrounds ranging from researchers and students, to commercial industry and government representatives from various agencies. It was an exceptional event that brought together the 38th Canadian Symposium on Remote Sensing (CSRS), the 17th Congress of the Association Québécoise de Télédétection (AQT), the 11th Advanced SAR (ASAR) Workshop and the 51st Workshop of the Association de Géomatique Municipale du Québec (AGMQ).
My supervisor, Dr. Derek Robinson, from the University of Waterloo, was presenting our research on “Evaluating Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Flight Parameters for Individual Plant Mapping”. My collaboration on this research is a side project and happy distraction from my thesis work on “Quantifying Land Cover Patterns Along Open-water and Disturbance Gradients for the Reclamation of Wetland Landscapes”. Without project or University funding to attend, I sought a travel grant from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and was one of 15 lucky recipients (Thanks again to the CSA!)
The EO Summit was my first academic conference and I was naively unaware of what to expect. It was nothing short of an academic marathon and I loved every minute of it: 12 hour days comprising early morning networking breakfasts; keynote speakers and panel discussions involving well-established remote sensing specialists in academia, industry and government; sessions filled with cutting-edge research; endless networking opportunities; great food – even the coffee was good!
I mingled with some of the biggest names in my field and I received career advice from Dr. Bob Ryerson of KIM Geomatics, networking advice from Jonathan Murphy of GoGeomatics Canada, had drinks with wetlands guru Dr. Frank Ahern of TerreVista during the cocktail social, and ate lunch with geomatics UAV researchers Dr. Greg McDermid and Dr. Jordan Eamer from the University of Calgary.
Originally, I planned to only attend a few sessions related to my graduate work on wetlands or interest in UAVs, but on the second day, I broadened my experience by venturing into sessions that I thought would be useful for future research ideas (eg., Classification Methods) and even into sessions I knew nothing about (eg., SAR, and Agriculture), it was all very rewarding, but by far my favourite experience was the CloudUAV workshop hosted by Dr. McDermid and Dr. Eamer from the University of Calgary.
CloudUAV is a project funded by Canarie. I had never heard of Canarie before, but was pleased to learn it is a Canadian non-profit corporation whose mission is “to design and deliver digital infrastructure, and drives its adoption for research, education and innovation” and receives a majority of its funding from the Government of Canada.
The overarching goal of the CloudUAV project is to develop software to help Canadian researchers use UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) safely and efficiently, while fostering and building a community of like-minded researchers. The CloudUAV software is designed to simplify workflows, and while there are several options currently available for UAV software, CloudUAV is unique in that it is open-source/free, backed by Canarie, and will be designed to offer compliance and accountability support – the latter of which is extremely useful to anyone who knows the challenges of navigating UAV regulations on Transport Canada’s website and filing a Special Flight Operating Certificate (SFOC).
The 27 workshop attendees came from universities, various government agencies and commercial industries from across the country, each with varying levels of UAV experience ranging from “just thinking about utilizing UAVs” to years of experience. After a lovely dinner, we were placed into small group breakout sessions (with people we didn’t already know) and had a series of brainstorming activities centred on questions posed by Dr. McDermid and Dr. Eamer. The synergy was undeniable. Everyone, regardless of their background was sharing experiences; discussing accountability; data security and sharing; opportunities; and working together. I really felt like we were building something new, something great. A community.
I have used a myriad of software platforms in my young career, but have never been a part of developing it. It was exciting. The CloudUAV workshop was also unique in the fact it was nearly one third female, which was the most females I had seen in one room – other than the bathroom – the entire conference. I found that to be both empowering and inspiring.
Overall, the EO Summit was an amazing experience and exceeded my expectations. I can’t thank the CSA enough for providing me with the funding and educational experience, the organizers for making it happen, my supervisor for letting me take the week off to attend during a very busy time for us, and all the awesome people I met along the way. A week later, I am still feeling inspired and energized about my academic career! The ups and downs of graduate work are well-known to those who take on the challenge. For me, this essential opportunity from the CSA, allowed me to observe not only where my research resides in the broader community, but also the potential career opportunities in industry. The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter now. Thank you.