From robotics to waste disposal: Innovative solutions

It was far from a center piece of the 2012 federal budget, but on March 29 the Conservative government announced $95 million over three years, starting in 2013–14, to make permanent the Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program and to add a military procurement component.

Innovation, of course, drives all sectors. The CICP was set up in 2010 as a pilot project to help Canadian companies bridge that pre-commercialization gap by procuring and testing innovations in a range of sectors, including security. Vanguard offers a snapshot of seven technologies identified through the program and two, developed by Paradigm Shift and PyroGnisis, which showcase Canadian ingenuity.

ULS 100
2G Robotics
Intelligent underwater laser scanner
Underwater imaging usually requires a high-bandwidth connection between the scanning device and the software on the surface, but 2G Robotics in Waterloo, Ont. aims to break away from that standard combination. Instead, the firm has developed the ULS 100, a 360-degree underwater laser scanner capable of creating 3D images without a high-bandwidth connection, which has never been done before. “We’re able to do a lot of the data processing and compression right in the head of the sensor, which allows for easy integration with a wide range of very small underwater robotic equipment,” says Jason Gillham, director of operations. Most small underwater robots aren’t outfitted with high-bandwidth cables, he explains, so the company’s solution would enable military organizations to use smaller and more easily deployed vehicles for 3D imaging – for underwater inspections when a potentially dangerous parasitic item has been detected on a ship’s hull, for example. Established in 2007, 2G Robotics initially planned to develop complete robotics systems, but quickly recognized the need for underwater scanners as important elements in the solution. Since then the company has focused primarily on ULS development and has brought three underwater laser scanner models to market.

Aeryon Scout
Aeryon Labs
Unmanned aerial vehicle
When Aeryon Labs sought to bring UAV technology to markets beyond the military, company president and co-founder Dave Kroetsch recalls that one police representative was blunt about requirements: “We’re not that smart. We have fat fingers and we break things.” That isn’t exactly true, of course, but it aptly illustrates the situation: if Aeryon wanted to build a broader market for unmanned surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence solutions, it would have to deliver a product that is robust and easy to control. A vertical take-off and landing vehicle, the Scout features a modular design, so if a problem occurs, users only need to replace the busted bits instead of the entire device. It also comes with a touch-screen control system. The user simply points to a place on a map and the Scout makes its way to the destination automatically, allowing the user to work on other tasks. “If at any point the user is focused on the thing in the sky they’ve lost focus on the mission,” Kroetsch says. The Scout can send encrypted video footage to a smartphone, and the accompanying command centre software lets a single user control multiple UAVs. Kroetsch wouldn’t specify which military organizations use the Scout, but researchers at the University of Alaska use the technology for sea lion research. At just 1.4 kg, “it’s really designed for the backpack of the soldier and the trunk of the police car,” he says.

SMARTBeacon
Adventure Lights
Networked lights for identification and co-ordination
Portable lights offer illumination. Adventure Lights says its SMARTBeacon system goes one step further: the lights in this system provide insight. SMARTBeacon is a mesh-networked wearable beacon system that allows commanders to instantly identify friendly forces in contact situations. The solution incorporates Adventure Lights’ VIP signal light, a palm-sized LED orb usually attached to a vest or helmet, plus encrypted networking technology that connects numerous VIPs together, and a handheld device that gives commanders control over all of the lights in the network. Thus commanders can make the lights flash on and off in specific patterns or produce particular colours so forces can see where their troops are. “It’s more than a light,” says Tim Ford, the company’s president in Beaconsfield, Que. “It’s a communication system.” He says Adventure Lights is one of the first to provide command and control functionality for an illumination network; SMARTBeacon interoperates with information platforms such as other prime contractors’ C4ISR products. The solution also works without the command unit. Users can promote one of the lights in the system to controller status, giving troops in the field the ability to set up networks and identification patterns as needed. Adventure Lights’ innovative housing for the LEDs incorporates antennas and software such that the beacons are compact, robust, light and network-ready.

Dermoskeleton
B-Temia
Second skin helps strengthen soldiers
Soldiers are expected to be in top physical condition, but imagine how much stronger they would be if they could harness support from an orthopedic structure designed to enhance strength and reduce wear on joints. B-Temia in Quebec City has designed a dermoskeleton worn over clothing. According to company president and CEO Stephane Bedard, it looks like a close-fitting leg brace, but with a power pack and artificial intelligence, it actively helps the wearer move. “It complements your muscular strength,” he says. “Your muscles work less. Your joints absorb fewer impacts. You’re healthier at the end of the day and you maintain your combat capability week after week, month after month and year after year.” Military interveners are often required to carry loads exceeding 100 pounds, he points out. Over time, that constant burden reduces the soldier’s mobility and can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, which can put troops out of commission, increasing cost for rehabilitation and replacements. The dermoskeleton includes a sensor network that observes the biomechanical characteristics of the user’s mobility. It also has movement-recognition software and control software that modulates the system for optimal assistance. It not only strengthens healthy soldiers, but it also gives soldiers experiencing musculoskeletal injuries the opportunity to get back into the field, Bedard says.

Cicada
Cicada Security Technology
Security system for laptop computers
Imagine giving computers the wherewithal to detect and protect themselves from attempted theft. That’s the goal of the Cicada security system. It monitors the computer for movement or environmental changes. When certain user-defined triggers are set off (an unplugged network connection, a power disconnection, insertion of a USB drive, etc.), the system emits a high-pitched and loud alarm alerting anyone within earshot of the attempted theft or modification. It also locks the device, prohibiting unauthorized access to data. Cicada can send an alert to the user’s mobile phone or email address. Company founder Ryk Edelstein explains that the system would help safeguard both the computers and any stored or accessible information in theatre. If a military location is attacked and users have to leave their workstations, Cicada effectively ensures that agents of opposing forces aren’t able to access information on the PCs. “The moment the computer is tripped the information stored on it or the information it has access to is instantly protected,” Edelstein says. “This is a level of threat that has never been addressed with any active security product to date.” Cicada is working with computer chip maker Intel to integrate Cicada into the hardware-based security features of Intel microprocessors and chip sets.

Active Microclimate Cooling System
Mawashi Protective Clothing
Wearable cooling technology
Personal protective equipment such as ballistics and fragmentation vests help protect soldiers in theatre, but they also contribute to discomfort. A body can roast under the hot sun in certain environments, and with the high degree of physical activity, heat stroke is always a risk. Mawashi Protective Clothing in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., developed the Active Microclimate Cooling System, a wearable, light-weight (1.2 kg) device that uses fans and an eight-hour battery to effectively suction away the perspiration-saturated air that is otherwise trapped against the body, allowing fresh air to come in and aid in the cooling effect. Alain Bujold, the company’s president, explains that Mawashi developed the patented technology initially to help firefighters keep cool and dry, but now the firm is modifying the system to work with sealed frag vests for military applications. Discomfort from heat is an important concern for soldiers who are expected to be alert and focused; it increases their stress levels, affecting their performance. “If you can reduce the stress by five or 10 percent, you’re better able to manage high-stress situations,” says Bujold, a human factors and ergonomics specialist with 17 years of experience in new product development with the security industry.

Hydra6
Oracle Telecomputing
Air surveillance solution
Aircraft identification and tracking is crucial, but according to the people behind Oracle Telecomputing in Carleton Place, Ont., existing technologies are far from perfect. For instance, one common method, automatic-dependent surveillance—broadcast (ADS-B) is prone to problems: solar flares can disrupt transmissions; GPS satellites can go offline for hours before anyone realizes it; aircraft electrical systems can go on the fritz. To address these shortcomings, multilateration (read: numerous receivers located far away from the airfield) can be used to verify aircraft identification and location. But installing expensive communication gear beyond the airfield’s security perimeter is asking for trouble. “In some places the equipment will disappear within a week,” says Jim Harvey, Oracle’s technology VP. Oracle’s answer: the Hydra6, a low-maintenance, low power sensor that combines ADS-B and another surveillance method, secondary surveillance radar (SSR), into one low-cost product. Hydra6’s six-sectored antenna and single sensor effectively replace the numerous sensors required for traditional multilateration, so it can be situated within the airfield, where it’s secure from theft. Because it can run on a car battery and is light weight, it’s also ideal for mobile applications, Harvey says. Oracle is positioning the product for marine use, too, as a potential replacement for expensive rotating sensors aboard ships.

Electromagnetically enhanced Physical Vapor Deposition (EPVD)
Paradigm Shift Technologies
Technology to enhance weapon system longevity and performance
Chromium may well have been the legacy material used to coat interior surfaces in weapons systems for the past 80 years, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. As Dr. Gennady Yumshtyk, founder, president and CEO of Paradigm Shift Technologies points out, chromium is carcinogenic and it costs governments tens of millions of dollars in environmental cleanups. Toronto-based Paradigm developed its Electromagnetically enhanced Physical Vapor Deposition (EPVD) technology as a superior alternative. EPVD is used to apply a broad range of materials, including metals, alloys and combinations to underlying articles used in defence and industrial applications. The solution gives manufacturers and purchasers a way to increase the longevity of medium- and large-caliber weapons systems while reducing internal erosion and heat impact. “You get longer service life,” Dr. Yumshtyk says. “You get longer periods between maintenance. In addition, you get performance increase from the perspective of weapons systems firing at higher rates and precision.” Tests performed with the U.S. Department of Defense demonstrated a 250 percent improvement in longevity of weapons systems over the chromium baseline, he says. Paradigm serves the Canadian and U.S. defence departments, as well as foreign governments concerned about the life extension of weapons systems, and is one of the recent recipients of federal government funding for clean technology projects. The company received $1.9 million for its surface coating project.

Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System (PAWDS)
PyroGenesis
Waste management solution for aircraft carriers
Move over, incinerators: plasma has arrived. PyroGenesis of Montreal has developed a system that combines compressed air and electricity to help organizations such as the U.S. Navy dispose of waste on aircraft carriers. The company’s Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System (PAWDS) uses plasma torches – devices incorporating an electrical arc and compressed air to produce temperatures near 5,000 degrees Celsius. The PAWDS solution grinds waste into something akin to lint, which passes over the plasma torch. In a fraction of a second it’s transformed into a harmless combination of CO2 and water, and a white sand-like substance. PyroGenesis worked with the U.S. Navy to create PAWDS as an alternative to larger conventional incinerators typically used on aircraft carriers. PAWDS is five times smaller, says Gillian Holcroft, the company’s chief operating officer. As you might expect, the USN undertook some serious testing before taking delivery of the first PAWDS system last fall. In the tests PyroGenesis had to demonstrate that sailors could be trained to operate and repair PAWDS in less than a week. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to run it. But it is rocket science,” Holcroft says. PyroGenesis aims to adapt the PAWDS technology for use as a waste destruction and energy recovery system for ground transport.

SIDEBAR
CICP: Procure, test and evaluate
The Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program began life in 2010 as a Public Works and Government Services administered two-year pilot project. With a new commitment in the 2012 Budget of $95 million over three years, plus $40 million per year thereafter, the CICP will help government become a first user of Canadian technology.

The program allows participating departments to procure, test and evaluate Canadian goods and services that are not currently available in the marketplace. Over 710 proposals have been submitted since the program began through two rounds of Calls for Proposals (CFP). PWGSC says feedback “suggests that demand exceeds the resources available through the program” and key stakeholders see the program as “filling a critical gap in Canada’s innovation strategy.”

Through outreach and a CFP, posted on the government’s electronic tendering service, CICP seeks technologies in the late stages of R&D, between Technology Readiness Levels 7 and 9. Technologies that qualify are ranked on three primary criteria: the level of advancement over current state-of-the-art technology, commercialization strategy of the company, and quality of the proposed testing plan.

Proposals are evaluated by the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program and validated by an Innovation Selection Committee, currently comprised of mostly private sector experts. Following validation, PWGSC selects the highest ranked proposals based on available funding for that CFP. Bidders are then pre-qualified and can seek out departments to test, evaluate, and provide critical feedback on the innovation.

Author: Stephan Dubowski from the April/May 2012 issue published

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