Investment into innovation is moving full steam ahead and Canada’s trucking industry could soon start receiving its benefits.
Canada’s Minister of Industry, Allan Rock, announced Tuesday a $5.25 million strategic investment into the development of a next generation satellite-based telematics
system for wireless asset tracking and other applications for the marine, trucking and automotive industries. The investment is funded through Technology Partnerships Canada, said TPC director of public affairs and marketing Nicole Loreto. Government funding covers only about one third of the total R&D costs, with the private sector firm, Ottawa-based Vistar Telecommunications Inc., making up the remaining $12.25 million.
Technology Partnerships Canada is an Industry Canada agency focusing solely on interaction with the business community, Loreto said.
“”We’re a vehicle,”” she said, “”basically an instrument of innovation, of implementing the innovation strategy of the federal government.””
TPC’s current funding recipient, Vistar, already provides a satellite-based telematics system, said Vistar Telecommunication’s president Neil Knudsen. The company provides a satellite terminal which has a GPS receiver built into it. Vistar partners with other companies who incorporate back-end software into its backbone, allowing for the delivery of full solutions for a number of different industries.
The three-year research project, which began in 2002, aims to expand Vistar’s capabilities in a number of different areas, Knudsen said. He’d like to arrive at a more capable terminal, one that could transmit more data with less power.
“”It’s also going to fund the next generation of systems,”” he said. “”We currently have a very low power, low data rate system. And what we’re looking to do is increase the data rate and increase the amount of data that we can transfer back and forth over our system. So this is to increase the messaging capabilities of our offering.””
The project has many possibilities, but one of the main applications Knudsen envisions is for the trucking industry. An enhanced system, capable of handling a heavier data flow, could be used for logistics control by transport companies.
Typically a trucking company will have a multiple number of trailers for each tractor it has in operation, Knudsen said. This allows the truck operator to leave an area he has delivered goods to and pick up another load. It’s an efficiency technique that can mean coordination nightmares though, he said, because trucking companies have to keep tabs on where the trailers were left and what location they need to be picked up from.
“”Now the system relies largely on telephone calls and reports printed out by the drivers. These are often wrong,”” he said. “” These people are always on the move. And then you have situations where a driver says he left the trailer at one warehouse when he actually meant a different warehouse. With satellite tracking it’s not a problem anymore.””
The telematics system can also be used to track the movement of hazardous material throughout the country; an application Vistar has had a lot of interest in from the U.S. government.
Loreto said that the TPC investments are open to any Canadian company pursuing an R&D project in environmental, enabling, defense or aerospace technologies. Interested companies will typically need to contact the agency, fill out an investment outline and then meet with an investment officer.
Technology Partnerships Canada expects an eventual return of all funds it invests into research projects its involved with, she said. The repayment formula the agency has come up with allows the developed products to hit the market and once they start their commercial life TCP either collects royalties on them or eventually captures their warrants.
“”This is a consolidated fund, through the government,”” she said. “”It’s completely arms-length, so everything goes back directly into the fund.””
Technology Partnerships Canada has funded over 156 projects to date. One of its biggest success stories is Research In Motion, which began with a TPC investment, Loreto said.