Canadian innovation hothouse showcases cool new media products

Telematics, Tentacles, and Augmented Reality.

Attendees at ‘A New Media Gathering’ got to experience all that and much more.

The event hosted by Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham (ISCM), a non-profit outfit that provides a range of mentoring, research, support and other services to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in Markham.

Spokespeople from these firms talked about innovative new media offerings that catapulted their companies to success. These innovations were made possible through research partnerships and with support from NGOs as well as government funding.

Technology – the great leveler

Such innovations, noted Robert Antonioni, director, mid-market for IBM Canada, can act as a great leveler, enabling smaller firms to compete toe-to-toe with large enterprises in matters of efficiency, time to market, competitiveness and flexibility.

Antonioni’s view was exemplified by the projects of many of the SMBs at the event.

Rosenau Transport, a less-than-truckload (LTL) company based in Western Canada is adopting telematics applications that enable systems on its trucks to communicate data to head office about metrics such as tire pressure, fuel consumption, speed, location and routing.

By using this data to optimize routing and maintain and service its truck fleet more efficiently, Rosenau says it can save money, improve delivery times and allow customers to track shipments.  The telematics implementation, the firm says, enables it to acquire some of the capabilities of a huge competitor like UPS.

Agencies that support innovative projects were also present at the Markham event to explain how they allocate research funding.

Kristine Murphy, director, industry development, Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) gave a rundown of OMDC’s funding structure for Interactive digital media projects. OMDC is an Ontario Ministry of Culture agency devoted to fostering and supporting the province’s cultural media industry, and covers book publishing, film and television, magazine publishing and music in addition to digital media.

In comparison to some other agencies that fund new media projects, Murphy noted, OMDC allows a full two years for a supported project to be completed.

Over three years, OMDC has supported 25 IDM projects.

John MacRitchie, director, business development for the Centre for Communications and IT at Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), a non-profit corporation supported by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, explained OCE’s mandate to promote the commercialization of research and improve Ontario’s competitiveness through innovation.

OCE now has $24 million invested in 598 active projects, involving 721 primary investigators and more than 3000 researchers. The projects involve work with 36 universities, colleges and research hospitals in Ontario.

“The companies range from two-person start-ups to global multinationals,” MacRitchie said. “For 2007-2008, of the projects we supported 43 received new technology licenses, patents were granted for 19, and 119 have patent applications underway. No fewer than 38 start-up companies have been launched, which brings the total number of active OCE-initiated companies to 126.”

On display were a range of new technologies.   
Truth about ‘Tentacles’

One night before its formal launch at Toronto’s “Nuit Blanche” festival, a new iPhone/iPod touch gaming application called “Tentacles,” was on view. ‘

The gaming app was developed by the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab, the Ontario College of Art and Design Mobile Experience Lab and York University’s Mobile Lab, with support from CONCERT and OMDC. A YouTube clip of the game in action can be viewed here.  

SnapDragon AR is a new authoring tool that uses an emerging technology called augmented reality (AR), which merges real and virtual image streams. The software tools overlay digital audio/video clips to a proprietary series of black and white markers, so users can overlay tactile interfaces with digital content.

“This is basically a really affordable technology that allows people without a lot of technology experience to produce AR experiences,” says Caitlin Fisher, Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture at York University. Fisher also directs the augmented reality laboratory. “Because the price point is so low and because it can work with consumer-grade cameras, there’s a whole range of potential applications.

It could be used to generate interactive content for museum displays. Or in education, where they don’t have a lot of money for technology, students could create an interactive world map and overlay themselves talking about a particular country, or overlay images and videos associated with those places.”

The software could also be used in advertising, gaming, film, theatre and publishing of a wide range of types, including literary: Fisher says that a project using SnapDragon AR recently won the International Interactive Poetry prize in Barcelona.

Other projects included a short 3D film by Oscar-winning director Chris Landreth, called “The Spine,” which was produced with the participation of Seneca College animation students and faculty, and Canvas 3D Library.

This is an open source canvas library developed by Seneca College researchers using the Firefox browser. It allows developers to integrate interactive 3D content within the Web’s two-dimensional framework without requiring plug-ins.

Paul Rapovski, president of Fast Motion Studios, told attendees about the huge studio his company has established in Toronto to provide motion capture data for games, movies, film, TV, motion analysis and other applications.

But there are many steps between cool ideas and a real business, which is the main reason ISCM came into existence. “We focus on the business side,” says Bob Glandfield, ISCM president and CEO. “We help companies with a good idea find out if they have a market. In a lot of cases they haven’t thought about things like whether people will buy it, how they’ll distribute it, how to price it, how to get investors.

“Surveys show small businesses tend not to trust consultants. They would rather spend money on another technology person or a new system, not another marketing or finance person. But if they don’t deal with those issues they’re not going to grow.”

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Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.

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