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Shaping the future: researcher profiles

GeomaticsYvan Bédard: at the vanguard of a new science
Drawing on his mapmaking and measurement skills, Yvan Bédard decided to become a surveyor. Combining these talents with his keen interest in data management information systems, Mr. Bédard has become one of the world’s top geomatics specialists, establishing Quebec City and Laval University as the birthplaces of a new scientific discipline.
  • Professor and holder of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair in Geospatial Databases for Decision Support.
  • Supervises more than 100 graduate students and trainees.
  • Delivers continuing education to more than 1,100 professionals around the world.
  • Oversees more than $15 million in R&D; projects.
  • Author of 400 publications and co-publications, including 150 international conference papers and 100 technical reports.
  • Has contributed articles for a dozen reference works and encyclopedias, in addition to two popular science works on geospatial information systems (1984) and geomatics (1990).

Setting aside all of the discoveries he has made, the research projects he has directed, the reference works he has published and the training sessions he has conducted around the world, Yvan Bédard sees himself first and foremost as a professor in Laval University’s Geomatic Sciences Department (he obtained his doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Maine in 1986). His academic influence undoubtedly stems from his position and the key contributions he has made to Laval University’s geomatics program – the first of its kind in the world.

“Nowadays, when people conduct research or publish articles on geomatics, they invariably refer to the work we’re doing here,” says Mr. Bédard, with a hint of pride in his voice.

A little-known field

Mr. Bédard has presented papers at more than 150 conferences in nearly 20 countries. His international reputation is a testament to the Quebec City region’s role in the promotion of this highly specialized field.

Though little known by the public, geomatics – derived from “geo” meaning “Earth” and “matics” meaning “information” – is a constant presence in our everyday lives. Geomatics involves compiling, representing, analyzing and integrating data for the purposes of plotting geographical areas, identifying resources or monitoring geographically localized phenomena.

Based on the premise that 80% of data can be traced to a specific point on the Earth’s surface, geomatics has a virtually infinite range of applications: ambulances can be monitored from a central location, forest fires can be tracked using satellite imagery and housing developments can be planned more effectively.

“The potential is unlimited. Over the past 30 years, we’ve gone from an extremely expensive and time-consuming technology to ultra-low-cost applications. For example, you can buy a global positioning system (GPS) almost anywhere that provides access to Google Earth, Google Maps, satellite imagery and three-dimensional aerial photos, all for just a few hundred dollars. These technological advances required years of work and massive R&D; funding. And the geomatics specialists were behind them every step of the way!” says Mr. Bédard.

These same developments have given rise to a new and highly promising market worth several billion dollars: the geospace sector, which combines telecommunications technology, geomatics and business intelligence. Once again, the Quebec City region is playing a dynamic leadership role.

Revolutionary software

As the holder of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair in Geospatial Databases for Decision Support, Mr. Bédard and his team of researchers were the driving force behind spatial on-line analytical processing (SOLAP) technology.

“In August 2007, I was conducting a training session at MIT Research in Boston at the request of the US Defence Department. According to their assessment, what we’re doing here in Quebec City is state-of-the-art,” says Mr. Bédard.

Incorporating observations and statistics from multiple sources (e.g., government departments, organizations, municipalities), SOLAP technology is an interactive data exploration tool that can be used to analyze industrial pollution sources, agriculture-related water table problems, cancer incidence by region, etc.

SOLAP technology is also highly regarded by decision makers since data can be cross-analyzed to produce statistics. Unlike tabular data, statistics can be mapped, enabling researchers to establish geographic correlations.

Quebec City leads the way

“Working at a university in a capital city is beneficial for us. Our team can carry out projects with private companies as well as government departments, particularly the Ministries of Transport, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Municipal Affairs, Environment and Defence. And our ability to test projects on site gives us an advantage over other universities. That’s what gives us our credibility,” notes Mr. Bédard.

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