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April 7, 2010

Three images taken from a grizzly bear's neck by the Animal PathFinder, developed at the U of C.

So if you’ve ever clicked on that little “Raptor Facts” tab up at the top of the page to figure out who is writing all of this nonsense, you might have seen that I am enrolled in Geomatics Engineering at the University of Calgary. The next thing you probably thought was that I made up a degree program. But let me assure you, it is real! I’ll even give you an application of my degree that I ended up working with this past summer.

Geomatics is essentially anything that deals with the question “Where…?” It is a field that deals with collecting, analyzing, and producing spatial data. It encompasses areas such as land surveying, GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System)/GPS (Global Positioning System), remote sensing (collecting information without touching the target), photogrammetry (reproducing spatial information from photographs), Geodesy (more than you ever wanted to know about gravity), and GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

Some of those fancy words easily apply to environmental research, as I found out in the summer of 2009. I was given the opportunity to works as a summer student under the watch of Dr. Andrew Hunter at the U of C, mainly on his joint project called the “Animal PathFinder.” It is essentially a device that attaches to a large animal collar, intended to find its home on the neck of a grizzly bear for a season! A story on the project was published in the Spring 2009 issue of Schulich Engineer.

The device contains a camera, GPS receiver, and inertial sensors such as an accelerometer, which allow it to measure location, distance, direction, and speed, augmented with visuals. Since the collar contains sensors other than a GNSS receiver, it became possible to keep almost constant track of a bear, even when GPS signals are blocked (by dense forest canopies or caves, for example). With a bit of computer modeling and post-processing, this essentially overcomes the issue of gaps in animal tracking data that many researchers encounter.

The information gathered from the PathFinder is intended for use by various parties, including biological researchers and oil companies, to determine seasonal bear behaviour, habitat ranges, and perhaps even predicting bear behaviour!

Although I never got to chase down and tranquilize a bear or anything of that caliber, I gained a valuable experience by programming the code that would read in and sort the binary data from the Animal PathFinder into a useful format. I even had to try it out in a new language, Python, which was interesting. Who knew that the same field that deals with satellite imagery could have me watching grizzlies?

Geomatics promises to be a very interesting career, and I’ll keep you all updated on where I end up. For now, you should read this article, and keep your eye on Geomatics news at the U of C!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Emma permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:47 pm

    Man, what a great post. Very well written. So well written you could almost switch to an English major. =P

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