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Precarn announces $2.5 million R&D funding boost

OTTAWA – Precarn Inc. has announced a $2.5 million funding boost to promote the research and development (R&D) efforts of six Canadian companies using intelligent systems to solve commercial problems in the manufacturing sector.

Under the program – which is administered and funded by Precarn, a not-for-profit company representing a national network of corporations, universities, colleges, research institutes and government partners engaged in the development of enabling technologies – companies will commercially develop or advance innovative made-in-Canada intelligent technologies with a focus on manufacturing. Up to $500,000 is being provided per project.

“This new program addresses a critical sector of the Canadian economy – manufacturing,” said Anthony Eyton, President and CEO of Precarn, adding that Precarn’s collaborative R&D model has proven that strong links among private, public and academic organizations are critical to successfully stimulate the country’s economic growth and competitiveness, and ultimately keep jobs in Canada.

“Given the difficult economic times, what we need in this economy is a rapid conversion of R&D to jobs and revenues, and this infusion of funds is intended to help do just that,” Eyton explained. “The projects being funded have a heavier emphasis on development than research, and have strong potential for commercialization in the near term.”

Details of the six projects – which were selected from a pool of 38 proposals – follow:

Unique Device Detects Swallowing Impairment: Ottawa-based Panacis Medical is developing a portable, non-invasive device to detect impaired swallowing in patients with neurological disorders. Coined the “Aspirometer”, the product is expected to provide benefits to the 200,000 people who suffer from swallowing disorders and the clinicians who treat them.

People with swallowing difficulties are said to exhibit dysphagia: a symptom that is strongly associated with many neurological diseases and injuries, including stroke.

Aspiration – the entry or inhalation of foreign substances into the airway – is a common consequence of dysphagia, and has been linked to higher incidences of pneumonia and risk of death. The accuracy and ease of use of the Aspirometer will make it an essential tool for conducting dysphagia screening in real-time and will significantly increase the effectiveness of current bedside swallowing tests by providing insight not observable without an x-ray.

Radiological examinations can be expensive, difficult to access, and provide only a single snapshot of swallowing function. As a portable, low-cost tool, the Aspirometer will allow timely and more regular observation of swallowing recovery or decline. For many patients with swallowing disorders, the Aspirometer will bring improvements to healthcare services access, treatment outcomes, and quality of life. The Aspirometer is being developed in collaboration with Bloorview Kids Rehab, and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

DreamWafer Intelligent Rapid Prototyping: Normally, the design process for a new piece of electronic equipment takes months, or even years, to complete. But a research team led by Montreal-based Gestion TechnoCap is aiming to reduce that time to a matter of days with a radical new concept called the DreamWafer™ WaferBoard™. An intelligent rapid prototyping system, the WaferBoard™ works like a “waffle iron” for prototyping electronic printed circuit board (PCB) systems.

Engineers place the electronic components – or dough – into the system and close the cover. The WaferBoard™ automatically senses the component contacts, recognizes them and connects them, allowing users to view the results on a computer screen. From there they can test and make adjustments, to both the hardware and the software, until the prototype is perfected.

Typically, engineers have to order components and wait for PCBs to be built before testing can begin. And, when something goes wrong, they have to start the entire process over. WaferBoard™’s streamlined rapid prototyping approach changes that, dramatically speeding the time from design to product launch. The Precarn funding will be used by Gestion TechnoCap and its partners - CMC Microsystems Inc. of Kingston, Ontario, the Research Institute of Hydro-Québec, Hyperchip Inc. of St-Laurent, Quebec, École Polytechnique de Montreal, Université de Québec à Montréal and Université de Québec à Gatineau – to develop a working prototype of the WaferBoard™, which has already been issued 16 patents.

Intelligent Rights of Way (ROW) Management: In response to a heightened need to accurately and quickly inspect power lines and insulators for vegetation infringement or other types of damage – which can ultimately cause unplanned power outages like the one that hit Ontario in 2004 – GeoDigital International of Burlington, Ontario, has created a remote sensing solution that is currently gaining the attention of utility companies as a faster, less expensive way to manage rights of way.

Based on new stabilization technology and advanced image processing, the GeoDigital system is capable of near real-time results, producing reports within a couple of days as opposed to the weeks and/or months required by existing monitoring processes that rely on manual inspection. At 250 pounds and with multiple software applications on board, the current system – which operates automatically – has proven the technical viability of the company’s solution and is in use today on a service basis.

With the Precarn funding, the project managers are now aiming to develop a lighter, easier-to-operate version of the system that will be more commercially viable and designed for use by utility employees themselves. Additional project participants include York University, GeoICT Lab of Toronto, and Arizona Public Services of Phoenix.

Laser Range Finder for Micro-Satellites: Neptec Design Group Ltd. of Kanata, Ontario, is helping to make micro satellites a viable platform for the future by developing the Laser Range Finder, a proximity sensor used to help satellites “see” as they travel through space. The goal of the project is to design a long range, lightweight sensor that will operate in geostationary orbit. Geostationary orbits are useful because they cause a satellite to appear stationary with respect to a fixed point on the rotating Earth.

The Laser Range Finder unique design will be used aboard microsatellites which are cheaper and easier to deploy, but where space is at a premium. The proximity sensor will help them to navigate and avoid collisions, ultimately increasing their performance. Participanting in the project is Algonquin College in Ottawa.

Mobile Robots for Civilians: Following the events of 9/11, there has been a greater demand for robotic platforms designed for use in urban environments. Whereas existing suppliers of robotics platforms typically concentrate on military applications, there hasn’t been an emphasis on the needs of civilian agencies such as police forces.

Engineering Services Inc. (ESI) of Toronto, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of Ottawa and Ryerson University of Toronto, is aiming to fill this gap by developing a highly configurable commercial robot platform that will provide greater flexibility at a much lower cost. ESI mobile robots are designed for use in surveillance, reconnaissance, inspection and handling of hazardous items, manipulation of suspected packages and neutralization of explosive devices by civilian, police, and military forces. The new, low-cost platform will be ideally suited for emergency response and SWAT teams, fire departments, hazardous goods response units and emergency measures units.

DecisionExpress – Automatic Semantic Processing of Legal Judgments: NLP Technologies is changing the way legal judgments are reviewed and distributed with Decision Express, an automatic translation system for legal documents that provides electronic access to summaries of more than 200,000 new judgments passed down in Canadian federal and provincial courts each year. With the funding infusion from Precarn, NLP will be enhancing its existing Internet-based service to include additional types of legal documents, including U.S.-based judgments, and will be adding an English-to-French, and French-to-English translation capability.

Normally, a certified translation takes nine months to complete. NLP is aiming to shorten this time significantly using a unique statistical machine translation system – the first in the world to be ‘trained’ to understand legal documents – which has gained the attention of the federal courts in Canada for its accuracy and speed. As an added benefit, DecisionExpress is greatly reducing the huge amount of paper used in the legal profession each year. Additional project participants include The University of Montréal and Palomino System Innovations Inc. of Toronto.

About Precarn
Precarn, based in Ottawa, is an independent not-for-profit company that supports the pre-commercial development of leading-edge technologies. Precarn works with Canadian companies who are seeking to commercialize their new ideas to get an edge in global markets. Unlike other research funding programs, Precarn uses a collaborative model that includes a developer, a customer and an academic research partner in every project. This collaboration accelerates development, reduces risk and shares the cost of R&D. Precarn provides access to an extensive national network of world-class researchers, innovative companies and sources of funding. Precarn receives support from Industry Canada, other federal departments and provincial government agencies, as well as private sources. For more information on Precarn, please visit