I’m often asked at IDC what the coolest technology is that I’m seeing in Canada from tech startups. In the Digital Media space, and in Toronto specifically, a good place to source out hot new digital media technology is at Ryerson’s new Digital Media Zone (DMZ), which officially opened on April 7, 2010 (http://www.ryerson.ca/dmz/).
Located on the 5th floor overlooking Yonge-Dundas Square, the DMZ connects Ryerson students, graduates and alumni from different disciplines to take digitally inspired concepts and make them real solutions and marketable products. Ryerson’s President Sheldon Levy explained that Ryerson does not take a stake in the technology being developed; instead it provides the space and equipment for students to test and try their ideas in a safe environment supported and funded by the school.
The result? Some pretty cool and marketable technology. Examples include:
- Social Buying. TeamSave (www.teamsave.com), a new Toronto start-up, officially launched at the DMZ April 7. TeamSave brings deals from local businesses to local buyers through social media like Facebook, Twitter and mobile applications. The social buying platform is intended to help restaurants and other establishments attract new customers by letting them offer group deals that consumers can purchase together at discounted prices. The company is addressing a hot area of the market, where U.S. competitors such as Groupon have already demonstrated the success of this type of offering in U.S. cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago. Competition is now heating up in Toronto with TeamBuy.ca, which will make for exciting market dynamics.
- Gesture Technology. Jonathan Ingham, a graduate of Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson, founded Phosphorus Media Inc. (http://p15media.com/), to market his interactive technologies that are designed to engage audiences. Phosphorus Media is in the business of: gesture recognition technology, image projection, multi-touch technology, 3D holographic imaging, mobile applications, directional sound and a think tank for new media technologies. Jonathan is an authorized reseller of GestureTek, which has technology that projects interactive images on floors or walls that respond to movement, such as the sweep of your shoe or hand, but do not require actual contact (touch). Jonathan’s company was subcontracted by GestureTek to develop content and set-up for L’Oréal’s product launch this past January, creating a 33 foot interactive runway, dressed up with flowers that models brushed away with the sweep of their feet as they walked down the runway. There are other potential attractive applications of the technology and Phosphorus Media’s services as well, particularly store advertising, or displays such as at trade shows.
- Metro Transit Travel Assistant. This context-aware mobile application is designed to help metro passengers with disabilities navigate their way. The app continually updates with new information based on the user’s location, and tracks their progress from station to station. Users can get information such as the location of station elevators and other Metro lines; facilities and nearby businesses; updated schedules for connecting trains; and data about services at each station. The sensitivity of the users’ microphone increases automatically as users enter busy subway stations, and the app can automatically switch to a text-based variant of the application if connection bandwidth drops. The app got the attention of the Paris Metro system, which will pilot the app at 10 Metro Stations in Paris, France beginning in May. Commuters will be able to download and customize the software for free. The application is designed on top of MUSIC Development Framework which is a European Funded Research Project ( www.ist-music.eu). An app such as this one holds opportunity not just in subway stations, but in other transit terminals as well, including airports. There’s no shortage of competition in the app space: Handi Mobility’s iPhone app called TransLink that provides schedules for buses, SkyTrain, WestCoast Express and SeaBus in Vancouver; and Fusedlogic’s Route 411 app in Toronto and Edmonton are just a few. The greater challenge is working with transit authorities that control how and if third parties can use their transit data.
There was no shortage of talent and interesting technology at the DMZ, but as President Levy pointed out, that’s not the biggest challenge. “There’s no doubt the talent is as good here in Canada as anywhere else, we just don’t want it badly enough.”
Providing a place like the DMZ where students from different disciplines can work together, pushing each other every step of the way to test and build superior technology, will definitely help overcome this challenge. Yet, the real value is likely to come from the mentorship, entrepreneurial counseling, funding advice, and industry connections that can be provided through the DMZ to help those students (who want it badly enough) take their cool ideas and initial successes to the next level.