Teledyne Optech COO Michel Stanier tells us about the focus of his company, how the LiDAR industry is evolving rapidly and where the demands are coming from. He also explains how new technologies like autonomous cars and artificial intelligence fit into Teledyne‘s business plans
Where do you see the geospatial industry heading in the next 10 years and where do you see Teledyne Optech fitting in?
There is no doubt that the geospatial industry is transforming very fast. A couple of years ago LiDAR was a very niche, specialized market. Today, it is completely democratized; everybody has LiDAR and now we are talking about putting LiDAR on phones. It is becoming a commodity from a technology perspective. Big companies are using it, be it Google or Apple. It is an advantageous time for us as we have been in the LiDAR space for more than four decades. Going forward, we want to provide solutions that are tailored to brand new applications.
With Teledyne’s help, we are bringing new technologies, providing integration options that didn’t exist before, like infrared or the real fusion between visible, infrared, multispectral… there are so many possibilities that we are exploring now. For example, vegetation management with active multispectral sensors, the ability to integrate data at different scales, etc.
The ability to really handle from very high scale to a very low level and to have a complete spectrum of solutions including the whole data management side is our strength. We also have Cloud solutions that process end-to-end, pay-per-use; we have the ability to tailor all these technologies to new applications based on the needs of customers and, of course, doing this all in a more competitive and efficient manner.
Do you have plans to explore different geospatial markets or do you want to continue being a core solution provider?
Optech has the history of creating many of these industries. We were the first ones with the airborne LiDAR terrain map (LTM), so much so that even the LTM acronym is often used for airborne mapping as a whole. We were the first ones with mobile solution as well. Optech has been already in this mode of creating industries. We want to keep looking for new applications and opportunities. At the same time, we have to protect our core business because it funds our ability to go into these new markets. So, the answer to your question is yes, of course we need to continue to nurture and grow our core markets, but we will naturally go and explore and create new markets as well.
Apple recently asked for a patent on mobile scanning on iPhones. How do you think such moves are going to affect your business?
It is not just Apple; even Google is a very prolific company. However, there is a lot of prolificity already out there. I don’t see that necessarily affecting our business directly. I need to look more closely at each one of these patents before commenting. I am not involved at that level. We have other people who are more versed in that space. But again this technology is not new. There are certainly new technologies like SLAM. These large companies are trying to carve out a niche for them. We will have to look into things in a case by case basis and understand. We are already in talks on collaborating with some of these companies. So, I don’t see that it’s going to fundamentally affect our business.
Smart cities are a buzzword these days. What role do you see for your company or products in this area?
One of the core components of smart cities is data — as much as you can imagine. For example, if we talk about autonomous vehicles, there are two ways of handling that. First, the vehicle can be completely autonomous without any prior knowledge, which is very complicated. A better approach is to have a basemap of the world around you and then handle those changes with respect to that basemap. At the vehicle level our company enables for large-scale data collection that creates these basemaps. We believe that we are a core player in this space. We are an enabler of many of these solutions of the future that again companies like Google and Apple are bringing to the market.
Do you think that the LiDAR and sensor industries are driving autonomous car industry?
Autonomous cars have been a dream of the humanity for a very long time. I don’t think LiDAR is driving this. LiDAR is a core enabler — be it active sensors on the vehicles for obstacle avoidance or be it detection and so forth. These vehicles need basemaps as a fundamental infrastructure layer in order to enable this technology to get into the market quickly. We as a company are at both the ends — on the vehicle as well as generating the dataset that enables them. But it would be arrogant to think that LiDAR is what drives the vehicle; it’s the other way around. We are an enabling technology.
Artificial intelligence is an absolute essential component going forward. Teledyne has a lot of core strength in this. One of our divisions, scientific and imaging, has many years’ of experience in this area. The purpose of artificial intelligence is the ability to do difficult things that human beings today have to do manually
What role do you see for artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence is an absolutely essential component going forward. Teledyne has a lot of core strength in this. One of our divisions, scientific and imaging, has many years of experience in this area. The purpose of artificial intelligence is the ability to do difficult things that human beings today have to do manually. It enables a computer to do it in a faster and cheaper way, and then push it onto Cloud. We are absolutely involved in it, we have algorithms and we are exploring a lot of various opportunities whether it is automatic acid extraction and so on. Artificial intelligence is going to be a core component of our solutions.
Which geographies do see your business coming from and which areas would you like to focus on?
Optech is a global company since the very beginning. We don’t pick and choose. Of course, we try to force our business everywhere, but there is no doubt that some areas are showing a lot more growth potential than others. If you look at North America, there is all this work being done on autonomous vehicles and they need whole layers of more accurate data that is needed. Though a great layer of data already existed, but that is not good enough since we need higher precision and higher accuracy. There is a whole lot of work to be done in Europe and North America.
In other areas of the world, like in Southeast Asia or Africa, infrastructure is booming. So, again we need to be able to provide data to intelligently plan infrastructure and development — whether it is roads, rails or airports. Cities are growing very fast. There is no shortage of work wherever you look, but, it’s not necessary that the same kind of work and so it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for these areas.
There has been a change in your job profile. You are now the COO. How has this transformation been for you and the company?
I was in business development and moved to the COO role recently. Its been fascinating for me because though I am a scientist by profession and training, but I do have a business background as well. Earlier, I was focusing much more on the technology and not so much on the customer base.
For me, the most exciting part has been really going out meet our clients first-hand and to know what they like about our products, their challenges and expectations. We have very close association with our clients. Optech has always been the innovator in the industry in that respect. To be at the forefront and to able to interact directly is very exciting from me.
What is your leadership style?
In Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, he has described different leadership styles. I certainly do not want to be a genius with a thousand helpers. I want to be more effective in the background, have great people working with me. I love the technology, the applications, customer base. What I look for is a solid team so that we can all participate and really drive the business. As I said earlier, I really enjoy working with our clients, getting to know them and solving their problems. That is what we do, that is what we are here for. So it is always good to hear that clients appreciate what we do and that really excites me.