Sept. 13, 2018

University of Calgary alumni play key role in Thailand cave rescue

Engineering grad credits Schulich School of Engineering with leading world in geomatic mapping
Ivan Maddox
Ivan Maddox, courtesy of UCalgary alumni relations Photo courtesy Intermap

When the eyes of the world were on the rescuers in Thailand, the rescuers’ eyes were on a detailed 3D map created by a geomatics company with strong connections to the University of Calgary and the Schulich School of Engineering.

The sigh of global relief that came when 12 boys and their soccer coach emerged from a flooded cave system in Thailand was certainly echoed by Ivan Maddox, an executive vice-president of Intermap, the Denver-based company considered a world leader in 3D and geospatial mapping.

“We’re happy to celebrate this way because one of the things about creating these geospatial data sets and building awareness about it is you can bring about these beneficial results,” Maddox told the Calgary Herald in an interview, just hours after the last players were rescued.

One of two company executives with UCalgary ties 

He’s one of two company executive vice-presidents with a UCalgary degree, the other being Stephen Griffiths, who graduated with a BSc in astrophysics in 1989.

Maddox, who earned his geomatics engineering degree from the UCalgary in 1996, said the research and expertise coming out of the Schulich School of Engineering has helped make fast, precise mapping like that used in Thailand possible.

“The University of Calgary is a world leader in geomatics engineering,” Maddox told the Herald. “The U of C doesn’t just lead the geomatic engineering industry, it defines the industry on a global scale.”

Sophisticated map key to cave rescue

Intermap’s sophisticated mapping data of the 10-kilometre-deep Tham Luang cave system gave searchers a better understanding of the previously unmapped cave, and where the missing boys might be.

Intermap Technologies CEO Patrick Blott told reporters the company, which has offered geospatial intelligence for nearly three decades, was contacted by the Thai Department of National Parks about some missing kids on June 27.

“Nobody had made contact, nobody knew where they were. They’d been in there for three days. It was a very scary situation,” Blott told reporters.

First map produced within three hours

Using 3D elevation data from 20 sensors, Intermap was able to provide a high-resolution map of the cave system within three hours, which was then used throughout the mission to help rescuers.

This high-resolution elevation data helped prioritize potential drilling points, identify drainage paths, provide a detailed and interactive 3D model of the area, and determine alternate routes into the caves to help rescue the boys.

“Intermap was pleased to assist Thai officials in their search for the missing teens. We’d like to congratulate the international rescue operation, the Thai Navy SEALs and the emergency responders in Thailand on their success in locating the boys,” said Blott.

Schulich dean calls rescue a proud moment for engineering

Schulich School of Engineering Dean Bill Rosehart says the safe rescue of the entire team and coach is something for the whole world to celebrate, and knowing geomatics research at the University of Calgary played a key role just makes the great news even better.

“This is the best sort of example of what engineering can accomplish in a real-world application,” explains Rosehart. “Geomatics engineering from the University of Calgary provided rescuers in Thailand with critical information that helped save lives. That’s a proud moment for this school.”