Joel Cusick found himself pointing a laser scanner at the butt of a bear which is named as ‘Otis’, on one of the mid-September evening in 2018.
Cusick was on a mini break from his work. He was just standing on the banks of River Brooks in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, which is one of the world famous spots for watching bears, as these giant mammals like to wade in the water to have fun and catch fish in there. Otis was almost a hundred feet away, standing still.
Cusick, who works for the National Park Service’s Alaska regional office, is also responsible for creating maps and train people using GPS and how to use scanners in the field. He typically makes use of a laser scanner, specifically, a terrestrial lidar scanner, which is used to measure stationary items’ volume in the park like buildings and gravel piles. The industrial grade tool almost costs $70,000. It sits on a hefty tripod. On the same evening, Cusick took a scan on Otis by using it.
Lidar stands for “light detecting and ranging” and is kind of well known for its use in autonomous vehicles. A lidar scanner sends out millions of pulses of infrared light and measures how much time it will take for them to return after hitting an object, like Otis. These measurements form a point cloud which can later be used to build a three-dimensional map of the object.
In just a few seconds, Cusick was able to see something that looked like pinpoints which comprised of Otis’ rear on a tablet which was linked to the scanner. Computer software later processed the scan and created a 3D model that could be used to determine the width of the bear’s behind.
Cusick was very excited, he didn’t even think his experiment would work.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I got a return — I can measure the butt of Otis here!'” he recalled with a chuckle to CNN Business this week.