I’m at the Optech Innovative LiDAR Solutions Conference in Toronto, and I have to admit that I’m impressed with the turnout. Despite a serious recession, a global H1N1 flu pandemic and the near-simultaneous MAPPS 2009 Summer Conference, Optech’s debut event has drawn nearly 170 attendees based on preliminary estimates. “When we first started planning this conference about 12 to 18 months ago, we had no idea that we would be facing all of these issues,” said Don Carswell, Optech’s president. “We just saw the need for a conference that focused on specific challenges and solutions in LiDAR application-not necessarily a ‘user conference,’ but a more open approach-and we believed we could pull together a program that provided that focus.”
As the date for the conference drew closer and the obstacles mounted, Carswell admits that his confidence waned. There was even a point several months ago when the company considered cancelling the event. Registration was nowhere near what they had hoped, and moving forward seemed like a gamble. But Carswell along with Brent Gelhar, vice president of sales and product strategy, and other company managers believed that the need for information and the exchange of ideas was compelling, so they decided to take the risk. Clearly, that decision was on target; registration increased fivefold within the last several months.
The situation is not unlike the one that their customers often face. I spoke to Clay Wygant of WH Pacific, an early adopter of Optech’s LYNX Mobile Mapper technology and one of the presenters at the conference. He admitted that it has been difficult to be on the cutting edge-to be the person responsible for making the technology investment pay off. “I keep a massive quantity of antacids on hand at all times,” he joked.
But the truth is that the investment is paying off. As WH Pacific has built on its experience with the technology, new opportunities have emerged. “We’ve been able to gain a number of new projects because of this technology,” Wygant said. “It has really opened doors for us.”
As Wygant shared his experiences, others in the group nodded. Some had experienced similar successes, while others were simply internalizing the ideas. And it’s these types of discussions that Carswell, Gelhar and others at Optech are hoping to foster through this conference.
“LiDAR is not a ‘one size fits all’ technology,” Carswell said. “Quite the opposite, in fact-users are driving applications in a variety of new areas. Everyone’s firm has a different approach, and their clients all have different needs. What we’re really hoping to convey is the possibilities-a greater vision for and understanding of LiDAR. Through the exchange of ideas, we believe innovative new solutions will emerge.”
What do you think? Is the payoff associated with new ideas and technologies worth the risk? Or is it better to be cautious and play it safe in a challenging economy? Please share your comments below.