National innovation prize for York and Optech Inc.

An outstanding R&D partnership between York’s Faculty of Pure and Applied Science and Toronto-based Optech Incorporated has earned a national innovation prize, one of six national prizes was awarded last night by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and The Conference Board of Canada.

The 2002 Synergy Award for Innovation recognizes York and Optech for developing and extending the application of laser radar technology, known as lidar (light detecting and ranging).

Lidar is similar to ordinary radar, but sends out narrow pulses or beams of light rather than radio waves to collect information. Initially used to measure atmospheric pollution, lidar is now revolutionizing topographic and urban mapping.

Optech has collaborated closely with York’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science. The partnership gives researchers at York access to state-of-the-art equipment, and their expertise contributes to technology development at Optech in modeling new applications of lidar.

“York has one of the strongest atmospheric science groups anywhere. They’re keen to try some of their models in a totally different atmosphere, namely Mars,” says Carswell. York professors Diane Michelangeli and Peter Taylor have been conducting theoretical studies on some of the more fundamental aspects of the atmosphere of Mars, with a view to developing a Martian weather station.

York professor and Canada Research Chair in Geomatics Engineering, Vincent Tao, has been using Optech’s airborne lidar sensor data, combined with high-resolution satellite data, to produce faster, more accurate 3D urban mapping for emergency response and disaster management. “This will really open up new areas for urban mapping on a very broad scale,” says Tao. “With conventional methods we could only update maps every two to five years, and in our rapidly changing environment those maps are quickly out of date.”

Te prizes were awarded Monday night at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. For more details, visit York’s Media Relations Web site at or the NSERC Web site at