New Brunswick researchers spark global interest
New Brunswick has traditionally been known as a place rich in natural resources and scenic beauty. While the resource-development sector remains integral to the province’s economy, the global shift towards a knowledge-based marketplace has created the opportunity for new kinds of growth.
International industry leaders are discovering that R&D taking place at academic institutions like the University of New Brunswick and Université de Moncton is on par with the kind of work that’s being done around the world. Growth agencies like Ignite Fredericton have also been front and centre in creating the infrastructure and support needed to attract knowledge-based companies to the region.
When it comes to technology, innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as the skilled workforce required to lead this evolving workplace, New Brunswick has a lot to offer.
If you build it, they will come.
In the Fall of 2020, Fredericton is set to open a $37-million Cyber Park, a dedicated cybersecurity centre that promises to have an enormous economic impact. The 135,000 sq. ft. research and development facility is a shining example of how high-tech and knowledge-based industries are not only the way of the future, but continue to be a key area for economic growth for New Brunswick. Fredericton—home to more than 70 per cent of the province’s knowledge-based industries—is leading the way.
“If you look at the past year, there have been somewhere in the magnitude between 250 to 300 new jobs in this region of the province alone, all focused on cybersecurity in the critical infrastructure area,” says Larry Shaw. Shaw is CEO of Ignite Fredericton, the economic development agency for the City of Fredericton, Oromocto and New Maryland. “Cyber Park represents one of the most significant economic development opportunities that New Brunswick has had in at least the last 20 years,” he says.
The project has received provincial support, and builds on previous efforts to grow the innovation sector. Ignite Fredericton and Knowledge Park have partnered with Cyber NB, an arm of Opportunities NB, in the development of this hub, which is already attracting interest from outside Atlantic Canada.
One such player is Siemens, a global giant in energy efficient, resource-saving technologies. In recent years, the corporation has worked closely with NB Power to improve its smart-grid technology. Siemens was so impressed with the quality of research and development being offered here, that it decided to house its cybersecurity work in Fredericton.
Other tenants planning to set up shop in Cyber Park include: Difenda (a global cybersecurity leader); Global Intelligence (supporting counter- terrorism, counterproliferation, foreign intelligence, defense, and information technology missions); Kognitiv Spark (developers of secure augmented reality software for industry); and, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (conducting groundbreaking research in nuclear science and technology).
“We know that the knowledge-based sector, including the research and development component, continues to be one of the most important areas for economic growth globally, and here in New Brunswick,” says Shaw. “The good news is, we have the infrastructure, skills and resources to not only attract industries needing research and development, but to support local startups as well.”
Cyber Park will be the latest addition to Fredericton’s Innovation District. The area was conceived two decades ago as part of a long-term strategic plan to grow the region’s economy. With its proximity to government, the University of New Brunswick and other educational institutions, as well as to a highly skilled workforce, the District has become a well-known hub for technology and innovation.
In addition, Ignite Fredericton has also focused on the creation of two important spaces that further leverage its offerings in high tech and innovation.
Knowledge Park is Atlantic Canada’s largest technology and research park. The 26-acre campus is home to 30 companies that employ more than 800 employees. What’s unique about this Park is that its revenues are being reinvested into economic development through Planet Hatch, a one-stop hub for startups and other new businesses. That facility offers mentoring and coaching, programs and funding for entrepreneurs.
“Through Knowledge Park and Planet Hatch, we are strengthening our growth from both the high-tech side as well as encouraging a wide range of other businesses that benefit from an economically strong environment,” says Shaw.
Ignite Fredericton’s efforts are clearly paying off. Fredericton is considered one of the most digitally-advanced cities in the world. It is also one of the most entrepreneurial communities in Canada, producing more than $1 billion in knowledge industry exits since 2009.
Planet Hatch has also been extremely successful in assisting new business, earning Fredericton five of nine Startup Canada regional awards in 2016.
With the opening of the new Cyber Park, and the continued success of Knowledge Park and Planet Hatch, Fredericton is well on its way to becoming a global leader in providing high quality research and development in the innovation sphere.
“We have so much to offer in New Brunswick. It’s just a matter of telling our story and showing the world the skills and the infrastructure for learning that we have here,” says Shaw.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW BRUNSWICK
At the University of New Brunswick, researchers are working on hundreds of research projects in a multitude of areas at any given time. Here are three exciting examples that demonstrate how science is used in practical applications that will better our lives.
Shooting for the stars
CubeSat, short for cube satellite, is one of the most innovative projects happening in New Brunswick today. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) launched their three-year Canadian CubeSat Project in May 2018, and UNB, Université de Moncton and the New Brunswick Community College have formed a partnership named CubeSat NB to develop NB’s first cube satellite.
Led by UNB, researchers and students are designing and assembling a tiny satellite (10cm x 10cm x 20cm) that will enable research in space weather monitoring and forecasting. In technical terms, the CubeSat will examine the earth’s upper atmosphere, named the ionosphere, to measure the concentration of free electrons in the hopes of predicting weather patterns in space.
“Little is known about these patterns and how they affect space weather,” says Brent Petersen, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UNB. “Through a greater understanding of ionospheric patterns, we can better predict their impact, such as power outages and extreme space weather events that are connected to the magnetic fields existing in this upper atmosphere.”
There will be close to 150 NB researchers and students who will work on this exciting project, which is set to rocket to the International Space Station in 2022. The CSA has awarded 15 CubeSat projects to institutions across Canada.
“In terms of engineering and science, our work at CubeSat NB shows that we have the talent and skills in this province to take on these kinds of innovative projects. This creates enormous potential for the future,” says Troy Lavigne, Project Officer, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UNB.
Bringing augmented reality to life
Imagine you were building a house, and your architect wanted to show you its progress. With the latest augmented reality technology, you can use your mobile phone to display a 3D version of the model on a flat surface.
This is the kind of cutting-edge software being developed today by researchers at UNB. Scott Bateman, Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab, and his team of 10 have been creating the technology that is already having an impact on how industries conduct their business.
Currently the application is being used to help workers engage in seamless and natural communication even when they are miles apart.
“Using a smart device, an expert in a particular field would be able to work remotely on the problem as if he or she were right on site,” says Dr. Bateman. “This is significant as it allows for individuals across the globe to work on the same projects in real time, no matter where they are.”
The software is being designed for use with Microsoft Hololens augmented reality headsets that allow users to see, hear and interact with virtual objects displayed in the real world. Industry partner, Kognitiv Spark, is also collaborating on the project and together they work closely with the business community to enable companies to move into the realm of augmented and mixed reality.
Artificial intelligence and factories of the future
More than ever, the global industrial manufacturing market relies on robotics to help them create and deliver their products. Robots certainly make many tasks easier, but they also require ongoing maintenance and setup from human operators to ensure they perform their tasks efficiently. Factories of the future will greatly depend on high performing robotic systems.
UNB researcher, Rickey Dubay, is developing a new approach that will enable robots to identify defects on various equipment, parts and processes that are not running optimally. “With advance sensors and software, one can train these robots to ‘self-learn’ and identify these defective features before they fall out of spec,” says Dr. Dubay. He and his team have been developing this methodology since 2012. “This would have a significant impact on industries that rely heavily on robots to accomplish their work.”
The ability to predict foreseeable events can increase operating efficiencies, both in reducing down time as well as lowering overall costs.
To support industrial manufacturers, which include the automotive, food, and materials processing sectors, Dr. Dubay, along with colleague Scott Everett (CEO), co-founded Eigen Innovations Inc. in 2012. The company uses local experts in artificial intelligence, mathematics, engineering, and software development to help find real-world intelligent solutions for industry. Eigen continues to support Dr. Dubay on collaborative research initiatives.
“In New Brunswick, we have a solid pool of talent,” says Dr. Dubay. “The good news is we also have the ability to lead in the development of artificial intelligence-driven solutions.”
Using artificial intelligence to solve real world problems.
At the Université de Moncton, researchers are developing artificial intelligence (AI) software that is helping to create advancements in three key industry sectors: defence and security; finance; and, medicine.
“Deep learning technology is the latest trend in the area of artificial intelligence,” says Dr. Moulay Akhloufi, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at UdeM. “This involves analyzing existing data in a way that allows for the creation of software that will predict new and better outcomes.”
With the combination of data, mathematics and new computer programming, Dr. Akhloufi and his team of 10 student researchers are creating the kinds of “deep learning” programming algorithms that are leading to more dynamic AI software.
In the security sector, their work is currently being applied to two innovative security projects, including one for the Department of National Defence. That project, which launched last fall, focuses on maritime border security. It combines data collected from satellite aerial imaging with other information to create a unique software product for DND.
Another dynamic project, this one funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), is the development of security software for large facilities and institutions, such as airports, industrial facilities and university campuses. This software includes innovative face recognition capabilities to allow for more thorough and effective security in areas with extensive perimeters to protect.
“We are developing an algorithm for enhanced security that will virtually zoom and increase the size of the images we want to see, so that the faces can be more easily identified,” says Dr. Akhloufi. “The ability to offer this level of face recognition will significantly improve how the security of large facilities can be managed.”
Financial and investment institutions are becoming increasingly dependant on artificial intelligence software for both security purposes and to stay competitive in the global marketplace. The research team at UdeM has also been working with several Canadian finance and insurance companies on predictive analysis projects that will help to customize their software needs. By customizing predictive analysis and deep learning technology to clients needs, it can help guide customers in their decision-making around investing and other financial decisions.
For larger institutions, Dr. Akhloufi says AI also gives them a competitive edge, and, as a result, research dollars are increasingly being invested in the kind of technology that will enhance productivity, improve efficiencies and allow for an advantage over competitors globally.
In the medical sector, UdeM researchers are also seeing the benefits of this advanced AI technology, particularly in medical imaging. Through the analysis of CT and MRI scans, they are working on software that can help with early detection of certain cancerous tumours. This technology could have a meaningful impact in the discovery of lung and breast cancers where early detection and treatment significantly increases survival rates.
UdeM researchers have also just signed on for an exciting project with the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute. The study involves creating software that will predict the risk of disease through the analysis of DNA patterns and data sets provided by oncologists. This kind of predictive technology would significantly impact how cancer and other diseases are discovered and treated.
Diabetes detection through retinal scans is another area where Dr. Akhloufi and his team are hoping to make an impact. Blood vessels in the retina offer one of the clearest ways to detect the disease. With AI technology, researchers are hoping to create software that learns to identify the earliest markers for Diabetes, allowing for more effective intervention. With very early detection, patients may be able to prevent blindness, and in some cases, reverse or even cure the disease.
These are just a few of the exciting projects taking place at the Université de Moncton in the field of artificial intelligence. Dr. Akhloufi and his team are hopeful that their efforts will help to advance how artificial intelligence can be used to support industry and better the lives of individuals.
To infinity… and beyond
Ensuring that satellite software can handle the extreme heat of the sun and the bitter cold of outer space is one of the challenges Université de Moncton researchers are tackling as part of their role in the CubeSat project.
Led by Dr. Yassine Bouslimani and his team of student researchers, the mission is to develop both onboard software and hardware. The platform will manage power supply, temperature control and communications, as well as systems management to allow the satellite to operate in different modes.
“It’s very complex,” says Dr. Bouslimani. “We are dealing with the challenging environment of space, so everything we create needs to be able to survive and to sustain itself. This includes the hardware we create to protect the onboard computer.”
Early testing of the software will begin late this summer, leaving the team until 2021 to perfect it.
This project is a unique one for the University. In fact, developing this kind of satellite software is a first in Atlantic Canada. Dr. Bouslimani says the real benefits of working on a project like this are the learnings and opportunities it provides. “We have a lot of skills here, but experience with satellite software is a first for our students,” says Dr. Bouslimani. “Imagine with these skills and what they have learned, if they set up their own companies to develop satellite software right here in New Brunswick. That would be fantastic for the future.”
Changing behaviour to reduce risk
People have never been more aware of cybersecurity. But what they haven’t done is change their behaviour.
“To change behaviour, we provide the right information, at the right time, enabling better decision making,” says Kathryn Chamberlain, Beauceron’s Chief Operating Officer. “We empower people across any organization to understand the vital role they play in cybersecurity.”
Beauceron was born from the challenges of engaging faculty, staff and students at the University of New Brunswick in cybersecurity. The platform turns people from the passive victims of cybercrime into an organization’s best defence.
The platform is used by tens of thousands of people in more than 65 organizations around the world.
At the individual level, Beauceron offers customizable learning, gamification and a powerful personal risk score. Employees are engaged via status-based rewards for successfully completing education as well as finding and reporting simulated email attacks.
At the organizational level, Beauceron empowers leaders by providing key insights into the people, process, culture and technology sides of cyber risk. With departmental and organizational scores and reports, leaders get the right information at the right time to understand and proactively reduce cyber risk.