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Author: Sherri Bouslama

Williams Engineering – Using the power of machine learning to optimize business functions

As we move towards economic recovery, the need for businesses to adopt new technologies to improve efficiencies and support long term growth is becoming more and more critical. Increasingly we are seeing a real shift towards understanding how innovation and technology are key to supporting growth across all industries here in the Edmonton Metropolitan region and across the globe. The Edmonton region’s strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have the capacity to capitalize on the opportunities that have emerged as a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Williams Engineering Canada (WEC), an engineering consultancy firm had begun investing in machine learning software even before the pandemic hit. Through a partnership with AltaML, another Edmonton-based company that is focused on applied artificial intelligence, the two organisations are building machine learning applications in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. 

“We’re passionate about designing sustainable infrastructure that contributes positively to the communities that we’re a part of. ML algorithms, when applied to large amounts of data generated by buildings and business processes, will create economic opportunity and transform the AEC industry,” said Naseem Bashir, President and CEO of Williams Engineering Canada when the announcement was made in December 2019. “Being the first to partner with AltaML to develop AI and ML solutions for the AEC industry is exciting and beneficial not only our organization, but for every organization responsible for designing and building infrastructure across Canada. Machine learning and data analytics will augment our people’s ability to understand and predict the behavior of complex systems, enabling new and innovative solutions to emerge. The ability to leverage data enables companies like WEC to make improved decisions and produce greater efficiencies that lead to creating more sustainable infrastructure for the cities and communities where we all live, work and play.”

Adopting these tools are generating a real-world return on investment (ROI) for Williams Engineering where improving efficiencies is helping to make them more globally competitive.

“Typically, one of the most time-consuming parts of what WEC does is the proposal phase,” says Naseem. “We have 180 employees who write between 2,500 and 2,700 proposal a year – this takes a lot of time. An ML tool has the capacity to pull a tonne of data together, learn from it and help our engineers make better and faster decisions – leading to better work and the ability to bid on even more projects.”

It is these sorts of efficiencies that will have the ability to set them apart from their global competitors.

“Disruption breeds opportunity,” says Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. “ML & AI have the ability to support businesses in all sectors to become more efficient and productive. Globally, we’re seeing companies that invest in digital approaches, AI & ML, automation, etc. expand and gain market share. Our region is really well positioned to be at the leading edge of this because of companies like AltaML, the huge number of AI graduates from our universities, and the awareness of our business community that we’re at a real turning point in the global economy. Now is the time to take our regional strengths – like our well-developed expertise and talent in AI and ML- and use those to our advantage.”

To learn more about the Edmonton region’s strengths in AI and ML, and how businesses are using these tools to optimize business functions register for our upcoming webinar – Accessing the world’s top AI & ML talent

Edmonton ICE District properties earn international award

Stantec Tower, JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District, and The Legends Private Residences in downtown Edmonton’s Ice District have been awarded the prestigious ENR Global Best Project Award in the Retail/Mixed-Used Development category.

ENR (Engineering News Record) has been hosting this international competition for 8 years, aimed at recognizing best in class design and construction projects from around the world. Entries were received from projects in many countries including Australia, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Moscow, highlighting the significance of receiving these awards for these Edmonton-based projects.

“Stantec Tower, JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District and The Legends Private Residences were all designed to draw residents to the vibrant downtown core of Edmonton,” said Tim Shipton, Senior Vice President, Communications and Government Relations, ICE District. “These towers have transformed the urban fabric in downtown Edmonton, and we are very proud that their design teams have received well-deserved recognition for their efforts.”

Stantec Tower is the tallest building in Canada outside of Toronto. JW Marriot Edmonton ICE District is only the third JW Marriot property in Canada – Marriott’s most elite brand.

During construction of these buildings, both project teams demonstrated exceptional innovation by implementing safety measures to combat weather elements and mitigated construction risks posed by the height of each tower, as well as created safety programs to aid the protection of the general public and workers during construction.

“Receiving this highly regarded award speaks to the quality and craft production behind each project,” said Tim. “We are thrilled to see ICE District be recognized on the international stage for being innovative, safe and environmentally-responsible.”

“There’s incredible innovation happening in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region in all sectors,” said Edmonton Global CEO, Malcolm Bruce. “This is a great example of the world-class initiatives that are underway here and this global recognition is well deserved. The Edmonton region has a great story to tell – when you look at the global companies in architecture, engineering, and construction that are headquartered here and led these projects – it should come as no surprise that awards and international recognition are coming our way.”

The ICE District is located in the heart of downtown Edmonton, one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. Including a state-of-the-art arena, this 25 acre development was recently chosen to host the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, with Edmonton acting as a hub city for the playoff run leading up to the finals. ”If you haven’t been to the Edmonton region in the past couple of years, you’ll be stunned by the dramatic changes to our skyline. This has always been a beautiful city and region, and

Submissions to the ENR Global Best Projects competition were reviewed and analyzed by an advisory committee made up of industry veterans, and were judged on criteria such as safety performance, innovation, challenges, and design and construction quality.

The JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District and The Legends Private Residences were developed by notable contract and design firms PCL Construction, EAD Property Holdings Corp, DIALOG Alberta Architecture. Stantec Tower was developed by Stantec Architectural, which managed the design, engineering, and construction of the tower.

Newly released white paper explores the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s potential as a ‘hydrogen node’

The Transition Accelerator has released a white paper – Towards Net-Zero Energy Systems in Canada: A Key Role for Hydrogen. The report includes a pan-Canadian perspective on the work of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force which was established in order to develop a framework for implementing a hydrogen economy in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. This white paper provides an assessment of the ability of the region to contribute to the transition towards a net-zero energy future through the acceleration of hydrogen adoption.

Part of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, represents a cluster of world-class refining and processing operations representing $40 billion in capital investments and a wealth of expertise in the energy sector.  

As Canada commits to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, most of the fossil carbon-based energy carriers – like gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and natural gas – that currently provide over 70% of secondary energy demand in Canada will need to be replaced with zero-emission energy carriers. Hydrogen has the capacity to fulfill this need.

In order to scale up the hydrogen industry in Canada to meet the anticipated demand, the white paper recommends the establishment of ‘hydrogen nodes’ in regions across the country where the following criteria can be met:

  1. Low cost/low carbon source of blue, green or waste hydrogen
  2. Substantial nearby markets for the hydrogen as fuel and/or industrial feed stock
  3. Ability to cost-effectively connect supply to demand
  4. Scale of supply and demand where the economics work without sustained public investment
  5. Engaged industry, governments and academics to drive and support the initiative

The unique strengths of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland make it an excellent choice when considering where to locate one of these ‘nodes’. The region is among the world’s lowest cost producers of hydrogen. Alberta’s blue hydrogen, in particular, is made with ultra-low emissions by upgrading natural gas and sequestering carbon dioxide.

As well, the region offers well developed existing infrastructure, excellent access to domestic and international markets, a growing clean-tech ecosystem, and skilled labour.   

Lastly, the establishment of the Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Taskforce has brought together government, industry and academia – clearly demonstrating well rounded support of this initiative.

You can learn more about the study by reading the white paper here.

PBG BioPharma announces the official completion of their manufacturing and research laboratories

Edmonton Global CEO, Malcolm Bruce and Director of Marketing and Communications, Chris McLeod visited the new facility at its launch (pictured here with PBG BioPharma founder, Dr. Shan)

LEDUC, AB, Sept. 4, 2020 – PBG BioPharma Inc., a life science company committed to becoming a world leader in the development and production of evidence-based natural health products and medicinal cannabis products using its proprietary GenBioChem™ fingerprinting technology platform, announced today the official completion of its 25,000 SQF research and manufacturing facility on September 8th, 2020. The one-of-a-kind facility houses three distinct operations under one roof— a GMP certified facility for natural health product development and manufacturing, a C1D2 manufacturing facility with license for cannabis processing, and a suite of world-class GMP and ISO 17025 accredited research and analytical laboratories with cannabis analytical and research license.

The manufacturing and research/analytical laboratories will be utilized as innovation and manufacturing centres performing proprietary extractions, isolations, formulations, research and testing of Canada-based medicinal herbs, as well as cannabis products for health and wellness. The manufactured products will include ingredient extracts and isolates and formulated finished products. The facility will also serve as a “one-stop-shop” for Canadian and international businesses looking to create innovative, reliable, consistent, and evidence-based nutraceutical and medicinal cannabis products.

“We are excited to announce the completion of our state-of-the-art facilities,” said Dr. Jacqueline Shan, PBG Biopharma’s President, Founder, CEO and Chief Science Officer. “These joint facilities will serve as innovation centres, furthering our research and development of scientifically verified NHP products and medicinal cannabis, and also provide a much-needed resource to businesses looking to manufacture and develop their own reliable NHP and medicinal cannabis products.”  

“I am truly proud of our incredible team that has achieved such a monumental task in a matter of 8 months, and during a pandemic no less. We couldn’t have done this without the excellent execution of our entire PBG team and our wonderful team of architects, engineering and construction.”

The completed facility has created 20 jobs for scientists, biomedical professionals, and highly qualified personnel, and is expected to lead to the creation of another 30 new jobs over the next three years.

About PBG BioPharma Inc.
PBG BioPharma is a vertically integrated biopharmaceutical company based in Alberta and Ontario. Using the proprietary GenBioChem™ Fingerprinting Technology platform, the company takes a pharmaceutical approach to their research and product development process. PBG BioPharma’s products are vigorously tested and standardized by chemical, biological and genomic fingerprinting to ensure consistent purity, potency and targeted efficacy batch to batch and are in compliance with regulatory and industry standards. PGB BioPharma is currently conducting research and development and clinical testing in the area of broad-spectrum anti-viral therapy, neuropathic pain and Alzheimer’s management. The company’s NHP brands including Allergy Rf®, GenBioChem® Immunity and GenBioChem® Memory, are sold via multi-platform channels both nationally and internationally, including through wholly-owned Ontario based pharmacy store, Chi Health Pharmacy.

Further information regarding updates on the development may be found on www.pbgbiopharma.com 

Government of Canada invests in Alberta’s construction industry to help strengthen energy efficiency and green building practices

Minister Mélanie Joly announces $3 million investment to enable small- and medium-sized firms to develop innovative green technologies and support good, local jobs

September 4, 2020 – Edmonton, Alberta – Western Economic Diversification Canada

Alberta’s construction and engineering is a central part of its economy, supporting good jobs across the province. As the industry recovers from the impact of COVID-19, innovation is essential for it to come back strong and support growth across Alberta. The Government of Canada is a partner in these efforts, helping the industry recover, reopen and retool to emerge stronger than before.

Jobs for Alberta

The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), today announced federal funding of $3 million to help Alberta’s construction and engineering industry innovate and grow. This investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada will help small and medium-sized businesses adopt new products and technologies that improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This funding will be directed towards an Alberta-based not-for-profit organization—the Smart Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure Association (SSRIA)—to establish a network of test buildings where firms can collaborate and test their products under different conditions. WD funding is complemented by an investment of more than $2.8 million from Alberta Innovates, in-kind support from industry and $165,000 from the SSRIA, bringing the total project funding to over $6.3 million.

Products and services expected to be commercialized through this initiative include:

  • materials for walls, roofs and foundations;
  • mechanical and electrical system improvements;
  • sensors and lighting products that reduce energy consumption; and
  • software for storing and analyzing building performance on energy efficiency and greenhouse gases.

Today’s announcement further supports the construction industry’s shift towards energy efficient and environmentally-friendly practices. In addition to benefiting from new products and services to meet their needs, Alberta’s broader architecture, engineering, and construction industry will also reap the benefits of this important initiative.

Quotes

“Our shift towards green technologies is both the right thing to do for our environment and the smart thing to do for our economy. This investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada will support good, well-paying jobs in communities across Alberta while helping the province’s construction industry stay on the cutting edge. It will help many small and medium-sized businesses across the province innovate and grow while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and I’m excited to see the difference it will make.”

– The Honourable Mélanie Joly, MP for Ahuntsic-Cartierville, and Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada

“Through strong collaboration with our partners, the Government of Alberta continues to look for opportunities to create new jobs. Albertans are builders, and innovators. We’ve been the engine of Canada’s economy because of the fresh ideas that we bring to the table, and this is one more way for us to keep sharing new concepts from our world-class construction and engineering industry with the rest of Canada and the world.”

– Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation

“The technology developed with SSRIA will significantly reduce emissions and support the growth of the building and construction sector in Alberta. The project reimagines buildings themselves as clean tech and will drive transformative work around built environments, creating new opportunities and new markets. This initiative is another compelling example of innovation growing the economy.”

– Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates

“The operations of our buildings account for 20 per cent of GHG emissions in Canada and as high as two-thirds of emissions in Alberta’s largest cities. Through industry collaboration and innovation, we will develop and disseminate validated solutions to reduce GHG emissions by building higher performing buildings, which in turn provides economic benefits for the engineering and construction industry, building owners and their occupants.”

– Tanya Doran, Chair, Smart Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure Association (SSRIA)

Quick facts

  • Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) is investing $3 million towards the Smart Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure Association (SSRIA) to establish a network of test buildings where firms can test new products, technologies, and practices that improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The SSRIA is a membership-based organization supported by major construction firms in Alberta, including Stantec, Ledcor and PCL Construction, as well as several Alberta post-secondary institutions and technology incubators.
  • Alberta’s varied climate provides companies an opportunity to develop a level of expertise in the green building and construction sector that can be exported world-wide. Alberta has other natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and wood in abundance—all of which provide the region with a competitive advantage in developing green building technologies and products that require the use of alternative energies and other natural resources.

ATCO TO BUILD ALBERTA’S FIRST HYDROGEN BLENDING PROJECT WITH ERA SUPPORT

Canadian Utilities, an ATCO company, announced it has been awarded $2.8 million in funding from Emission Reductions Alberta’s (ERA) Natural Gas Challenge to advance a first-of-its-kind hydrogen blending project in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. Once complete, the project will be Canada’s largest hydrogen blending project, injecting up to five per cent hydrogen by volume into a section of Fort Saskatchewan’s residential natural gas distribution network, lowering the carbon intensity of the natural gas stream for its customers.

“Affordably decarbonizing the production of heat is vital to achieve our long-term emissions and energy goals, particularly in our cold Canadian climate, and hydrogen can play a powerful role,” said Siegfried Kiefer, President & Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Utilities. “This project is an important first step for Alberta, which has all the ingredients needed to be a leader in the hydrogen economy—including the ability to produce near zero-emissions hydrogen at a lower cost than virtually any other jurisdiction in the world.”

Canadian Utilities’ project will use hydrogen derived from domestically-produced natural gas, with the intent to eventually leverage Alberta’s existing carbon capture and sequestration infrastructure to store emissions associated with the production process. Engaging with customers and the community of Fort Saskatchewan will be integral to the project. Canadian Utilities will work diligently to create awareness about the safety of hydrogen, environmental benefits and the considerable economic potential.

“This project will not only create jobs, but a roadmap for hydrogen in Alberta, using low-cost, responsibly produced natural gas while leveraging the province’s existing investment in carbon capture technology,” said George Lidgett, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Utilities, Canadian Utilities. “Our vision is to enable Western Canada’s world-class natural gas industry to grow in tandem with Alberta’s hydrogen economy, including supplying eventual exports to global markets where demand is steadily growing.”

The Fort Saskatchewan Blending Project is expected to get underway in September with commercial and community activities. Construction is planned to commence begin the first quarter of 2021.

“The City is pleased to be the site of this proposed hydrogen blending project,” said Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur. “This project demonstrates Fort Saskatchewan’s commitment to sustainability and reducing emissions, while supporting our local economy. We look forward to working with ATCO.”

This isn’t ATCO’s first foray into the production, distribution and use of hydrogen. Last year, ATCO officially opened its world-class Clean Energy Innovation Hub in Western Australia. The industry-leading facility is a test bed for hybrid energy solutions and integrates natural gas, solar PV, battery storage and clean hydrogen production. In addition, ATCO is working with Fortescue Metals Group in Australia to explore hydrogen vehicle fuelling infrastructure in Western Australia and has recently been awarded funding by the government of Western Australia to conduct a feasibility study into the development of a commercial scale hydrogen production plant.

Blending hydrogen into the natural gas grid is being safely trialed in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and France, with concentrations reaching up 30 to per cent by volume.

With approximately 4,600 employees, assets of $20 billion, and two million customers around the world, Canadian Utilities Limited, an ATCO company, is a diversified global energy infrastructure corporation delivering essential energy services, service excellence and innovative business solutions in Utilities (electricity and natural gas transmission and distribution), Energy Infrastructure (electricity generation, energy storage, and industrial water solutions); and Retail Energy (electricity and natural gas retail sales). More information can be found at www.canadianutilities.com.

Investor Inquiries:
Myles Dougan
Director, Investor Relations & External Disclosure
T: 403 292 7879 C: 403 828 2908

Media Inquiries:
Leanne Madder
Senior Communications Advisor
T: 587-215-9115

Trash is biofuel treasure; Enerkem uses Alberta as a launching pad for expansion

Photograph of Enerkem facility in Edmonton, Alberta
The Enerken facility in Edmonton, Alberta (supplied by Enerkem)

Up on the wall in Enerkem’s Montreal HQ is a map of the world, peppered with dozens of little multicoloured pins. They’re scattered over North America, Europe and Asia — each point representing a visit. Someone, or someones, who travelled to Alberta for a tour of the company’s one-of-a-kind creation. 

Enerkem’s Edmonton facility, with its tall tanks hidden among a web of steam beams and railings, is easy to lose among the many other industrial sites that sit just off the Anthony Henday, east of the city. But the facility marks a huge step forward — the first commercial facility in the world to turn municipal trash into biofuel. And that’s attracted a lot of interest, both in Canada and beyond.

“We could probably make a whole other business out of it, if we made people pay for a tour,” says Michel Chornet, Enerkem’s Executive Vice President of Engineering, Innovations and Operations.

Canada creates a massive amount of trash – about 13 million tonnes of it in 2008, according to the Conference Board of Canada. That was enough to put Canada ahead of other 17 countries when calculating municipal waste per capita. And while other sources of waste have cleaned up their act since then, garbage from homes has actually gone up. In 2016, Statscan estimated 282 kilograms of residential waste was generated for every person in Canada, up from 269 kilograms in 2002. 

While some of that waste gets diverted to recycling programs and composting facilities, the majority of it ends up in landfills or incinerators, both of which have large environmental impacts.

For the past two decades, Enerkem has been trying to find a new use for this endless stream of trash. By turning waste into biofuels, not only would there be less waste headed to the landfill, but it would also offer a more environmentally friendly way of producing fuel and chemicals for industry. 

“We knew in the future there would be a mandate for biofuels,” he said. “We could resolve two problems at one time.”

The company found success with a pilot project in Quebec. But the next hurdle was a big one. They had to show that the process not only worked but that it could be scaled up to be commercially viable. 

The chance to test it out came when Enerkem was approached by the City of Edmonton. The city had already built a reputation for being on the forefront of waste management and now it had pledged itself to an ambitious goal: diverting 90% of its municipal waste away from the landfill. 

Some of this could be done through recycling and composting programs. But that still leaves a lot of waste with nowhere to go: things like plastics, Styrofoam and normally recyclable items that are in poor condition. 

Fortunately, Chornet says, that’s exactly the material that works well for biofuel.

“They didn’t want to have to build another landfill,” he says. “People see it as a waste, we see it as a carbon resource,” he says. 

The whole process is shockingly quick. Once the recyclables, compost and metal has been removed, it’s brought to Enerkem’s facility. First, the waste is sorted and shredded and then sent into a gasifier where it is turned into synthetic gas (or syngas).

From there, the syngas is cleaned, purified and refined until it is to the point where it can either be turned into biofuels — like liquid methanol or ethanol — or in high-grade syngas that can later be made into chemicals like ammonia. The entire process takes about 5 minutes. 

The plant is now responsible for diverting about 30% of Edmonton’s waste, Chornet says.

The facility’s success drew a lot of attention.

“It’s a big step for us,” he says. “It’s a project that has already led to a lot of other partnerships and attention. We’re the only one who has been able to convert waste for that scale into chemical and biofuels.”

One of the most important partnerships has been Enerkem’s collaboration with Suncor, which uses the biofuel created by the plant for transportation. Chornet says the energy giant “has a lot of trucks” and biofuel offers a greener way of keeping them on the road. As well, he says Suncor has provided vital technical expertise to help refine Enerkem’s technology and make their own operations more efficient. 

“It’s a great partnership. They are an operator, we’re technologists. They bring a lot of common sense and pragmatic information to how we operate.”

That partnership has also come with a big investment. A little over a year ago, Suncor joined the company’s existing investors in putting another $76.3 million into the company to expand to other regions. Last summer, Enerkem started preparatory work on a second waste-to-biofuel plant outside Varennes, Quebec.

Chornet says that the company is also looking towards other cities within Canada, although he said they weren’t ready to go into any specifics. As well, Enerkem is currently developing facilities in the Netherlands and Spain. 

As they do branch out across the country, he says the Edmonton experiment will serve as a blueprint for other facilities. 

From the start, Enerkem’s goal has always been to design a process that was easy to transfer to new cities. The “core technology” remains the same, according to Chornet, and modular construction means that new facilities can be spun up quickly based on the experience gained from the Alberta plant. 

Edmonton’s success also opened opportunities for other industries. Chornet says many of the visitors touring the Alberta plant hail from sectors that they hadn’t considered before, looking to see if Enerkem’s process could lead to turning waste into other useful products. 

“One of the things that really came from Edmonton was interest from other parties. It opened the door to other things – can we do aviation fuel? Can we do plastics?” he says.

“It generated a bunch of innovation. It’s gone even beyond our expectations.”

Invest in Canada report studies the Edmonton region’s strength in AI

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region was featured in a recent report – Betting on Red and White: International Investment in Canadian AI. The report is based on a study commissioned by Invest in Canada aimed at examining the opportunities for Canada to utilize our current strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to attract foreign direct investment. As one of the 3 AI hubs in Canada, Edmonton is becoming increasingly well-known for its strength in AI research and talent.

The study conducted interviews with twenty international companies from 8 different countries across 7 sectors to learn more about their experience with implementing AI and Machine Learning (ML) into their organizations and their understanding of the perceived assets that exist in Canada.

The study found that the majority of interviewees already view Canada positively as a destination for AI talent due to 4 key factors:

  1. Skilled Canadian AI Talent a Key Pull Factor
  • In Edmonton, the University of Alberta is rated as one of the top 5 AI research institutions in the world, attracting top talent and research leaders from across the globe to the region.
  • Edmonton is also home to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). Amii partners with startups, SMEs and enterprise companies to support their needs as they move towards AI/ML adoption in their work, providing expertise and hands-on support

2. Capacity to Attract Skilled International Talent is Compelling

  • The welcoming culture and liberal immigration system that exist in Canada make it easy to attract international talent to the region.
  • The Global Skills Strategy means that a company’s international employees can obtain work permits often in less than 2 weeks
  • The expertise that already exists in the Edmonton metro region is attracting international students and researchers who are looking to work with some of the most brilliant minds in AI

3. Regional Hub Development

  • As part of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, Edmonton is one of 3 regional AI hubs that have been established, along with Montreal and Toronto
  • The expertise that exists in the Edmonton region has bolstered its reputation in AI expertise and has already attracted corporate investment from businesses like Google, Amazon, Toyoto, IBM, Volkwagen, and Microsoft

4. Leadership on Ethical AI

  • In 2019 the University of Alberta hosted the AI, Ethics and Society International Conference aimed at developing excellence in AI and ethics. This event brought together researchers in history, ethics, policy, business, governance and science of big data, and AI with stakeholders from business and government. International partners like the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) and ICIE (International Center for Information Ethics) bring an international track record of developing insights and standards for industry, academia and society
  • Amii’s Summer Institute brings together experts, grad students and researchers from multiple backgrounds to explore the societal, governmental, and ethical implications of AI. A combination of lectures, panels, and participatory problem-solving, this comprehensive interdisciplinary event aims to build understanding and action around these issues.

AI is a transformative technology that has the ability to impact all industry sectors. As businesses accelerate the adoption of these tools, their importance and value couldn’t be more clear. While the study mentioned that participants did not see a lot in terms of barriers to AI adoption, they did note that there was some concern around the lack of expertise or talent. However, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region has that in spades. Indeed, this region has all the key ingredients to make it an attractive location for foreign direct investment opportunities in AI.

You can read the full report here.

To learn more about AI in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region check out this webinar.

U of A researchers develop tool to help build better prosthetic limbs

(Photo: Getty Images)

Neuroscientists look into the complex physical and mental co-ordination needed for seemingly simple movements.

Prosthetic users have to look longer at the object they are interacting with than their able-bodied counterparts, according to University of Alberta research that illustrates just one of the intricacies involved in devising the next generation of prosthetic limbs.

“There are prosthetic devices becoming available that are almost indistinguishable from real limbs, but the real problem is, if you think about how many different ways you can move your hand, each one of those would need a separate channel of information,” said Craig Chapman, a U of A movement neuroscientist in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation.

“They’ve engineered these beautiful hands, but it’s very difficult to control them.”

Chapman and his team, which includes Jacqueline Hebert, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry working to bring osseointegration surgery—the permanent anchorage of artificial limbs to the human skeleton—to the U of A, are interested in the kinds of movement decisions and the numerous computations we don’t think about when we reach out to do something as simple as grabbing a doorknob to open the door. 

To help dissect the processes behind each movement, Chapman mainly uses motion and eye tracking to gather data needed to understand what’s going on inside the brain.

“We thought, ‘Hey, if we return a sense of touch to people, maybe that’s the first thing that will be freed up—maybe they won’t necessarily move differently, but maybe their eyes will tell us a story about how much extra information they can process,’” said Chapman, who is also a member of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute. “That’s really the hypothesis we’ve been chasing for about five years now.”

Chapman and his team devised a tool called Gaze and Movement Assessment, or GaMA, as a way to track both body and eye movements, and put it all into a meaningful three-dimensional space.

Users are fitted with a head-mounted eye tracker that fits like a pair of glasses. At the same time, motion capture markers are placed on the upper limb being tracked, as well as on any other body parts of interest, like the head or torso.

They are then asked to perform two simple tasks that mimic chores prosthetic limb users would encounter in the real world. One is grabbing a box of Kraft Dinner and then moving it to three different shelf positions. A second has subjects moving around a cup filled with beads.

“And while they sound like simple tasks, because they were designed with a clinician and occupational therapist, they challenge prosthetic users in unique ways,” said Chapman.

“Getting them to do the movement consistently is what allows us to look at averages and determine what part of a particular movement is so difficult.”

Measures of hand movement, angular joint kinematics and eye gaze were compared with those from a different sampling of non-disabled adults who had previously performed the same protocol with different technology.

The research showed that the prosthetic limb user will continue to look at the device and the object, whereas able-bodied individuals look ahead to where they’re going to put it down.

“Their eyes are free to go to the next place and start planning a successful movement,” he said.

Chapman said his studies show that participants will often overcompensate to complete the task. For example, users of a body-powered prosthetic—a cable-driven device that allows the user to open or close the device using different body motions—put extra strain on their shoulder and trunk because they have limited degrees of freedom at the wrist.

“They will adapt their body to finish the movement, but maybe they’re doing it in a way that might eventually cause some sort of fatigue injury.”

He added, “If they’ve been able to successfully navigate their world and do the things they want to do for everyday living, it’s possible that an advanced prosthetic limb will actually interfere with that, and you just don’t know.”

Chapman noted that the broader impact outside of prosthetic limbs for GaMA is that it could help fill knowledge gaps in any number of sensory motor impairments.

“If you imagine someone who’s developing a tremor because they have Parkinson’s, had a stroke or are aging, and is learning to recover their motor function … we think we can actually tap into some underlying mechanisms to find out what precisely it is that they’re having an impairment with.”

COVID-19 continues to spark growth for Edmonton education tech firm

Showbie looks to scale hybrid learning – raises $5 million in a Series A round led by Vancouver-based Rhino ventures.

There are not a lot of businesses right now that would say that the pandemic helped to shift the market in their favour, but that is exactly what has continued to happen for Edmonton region EdTech firm Showbie. Since the global shift to online classrooms it has become apparent that there is a real need for digital tools that improve student and teacher engagement for online learning. This shift has created massive potential in the EdTech space.

“The massive change in education due to COVID-19 and the global market reaction to use digital tools was a rallying cry for us that we had to help – with Rhino’s support, we will be able to make a positive impact on student success during this period and beyond,” said Colin Bramm, co-founder and CEO of Showbie.

Lucky for Colin and the Showbie team, they have the experience and connections to be global players.

“Central to every investment is our conviction that we are backing the winning team in a market that has a venture scale problem,” said Jay Rhind, partner at Rhino Ventures. “Colin and the Showbie team are pioneers of hybrid learning environments in a time when educators and students alike need its solution”.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic more than 3 million teachers in 136 countries found the Showbie products invaluable in their shift to online learning. Since then this Edmonton-based tech company continues to expand its reach.  

Over the summer Showbie has accomplished a number of other milestones worth mentioning including:

  • Hiring a new VP of Learning, Adul Chohan
  • Introducing the Showbie Pro Plus package
  • Launching video chat function, along with a number of other tools to its enhanced features

“We are always looking for ways to improve the tools that educators can use in the classroom,” says Colin. “We really consider the relationships that develop between a teacher and their students, which can be undermined on an online platform. Our product allows teachers to give rich feedback to their students and this leads to better engagement and communication.”

Colin Bramm, Showbie co-founder and CEO

According to Allan Gauld, who was working as an account executive with Apple in 2012, promoting Apple products to schools in Alberta when he first met Colin, the Showbie team have always been thinking one step ahead.

“In those early days, some people had a hard time understanding where the iPad would fit into a classroom and were even unsure if the product would be successful,” said Allan. “The ability of Colin to be forward thinking enough to recognize the potential that these technologies had for learners, to see where the gaps existed, and to create solutions to address these gaps really demonstrates how the Showbie team has always been forward-thinking.”

This forward-thinking continues to serve Showbie well as they look to continue to scale their business even further.

As for Allan, he’s continued to keep an eye on what Colin and his team are doing as they’ve scaled their business and expanded their network to include a global community in the education space. 

“They’ve come a long way from where they started in 2012,” said Allan. “But I firmly believe that for Colin, the best is yet to come. He has the ability to build meaningful connections with people who share his vision and he’s successfully leveraged those relationships to build advocates for his product all over the globe.”

EdTech is an industry that has seen significant growth during the pandemic. According to a recent Crunchbase report, global venture funding for EdTech companies reached $4.1 billion between January and July 2020. That’s $1.5 billion more than was raised during the same period in 2019, and the highest amount raised in that time frame for the past five years.

You can read more about Showbie here.

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