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Continuing care

Canadian intelligent technology network launched

TORONTO and OTTAWA – Canadian university researchers and private companies have formed a first-of-its-kind network to increase R&D collaboration and to improve Canada’s global competitiveness in the development of technology for seniors and people with disabilities.

The Intelligent Computational Assistive Science and Technology (ICAST) network, announced in December 2006 at York University in Toronto, is a Canada-wide initiative sponsored by York and Ottawa-based Precarn Inc., a not-for-profit company that supports the development of new, commercially-viable technologies.

The network brings together scientists, engineers, clinicians, industry leaders and representatives of organizations that serve people with disabilities.

“We are putting our heads together to ensure we benefit from each other’s research and focus on what is needed, whether it is mobility technology that senses surroundings and helps people with disabilities interact with their environment, or technology that can increase safety for seniors in their homes,” said ICAST network chair John Tsotsos, a York computer science and engineering professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Computational Vision.

Academics, industry and others will work in four clusters within the network, focusing on mobility, communication, smart homes and issues pertaining to the elderly. They will collaborate on research, development and commercialization within their fields and will share their results with other clusters, as the issues often overlap.

Researchers are working on a variety of projects including intelligent wheelchairs that are self-guided, wearable robotics, technology that prompts a user with dementia through an everyday task, and smart homes that can anticipate occupants’ needs.

York’s Tsotsos and Professor Alex Mihailidis, of the University of Toronto and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, are discussing how to combine their approaches to detecting when a person has fallen; results may be available within a year that could provide an automatic fall detection system in special care homes for the elderly.

Paul Johnston, president and chief executive officer of Precarn Inc., said the ICAST network will foster important collaboration among the Canadian academic and private sector R&D communities.

“Technologies for assistive devices can be very complex; this collaboration will apply precious resources to solve tough problems, create unique solutions, and get them to market faster,” said Johnston. “Developing solutions together through an assistive technologies R&D network will have enormous social and economic benefit.”

Organizations on the steering committee for the network, in addition to York and Precarn, include: the University of British Columbia; University of Toronto; Toronto Rehabilitation Institute; Neil Squire Society; the Health Technology Exchange of Markham; LifeLink Systems of Ste-Marie-de-Beauce, Quebec; and Quanser Consulting Inc., of Markham, Ontario.

The collaboration that will be promoted through the ICAST network is essential, said Paul Gilbert, chief executive officer of Quanser Consulting, a world leader in the design and manufacture of state-of-the-art advanced control technology used in a range of applications including robotics and medical assistive devices.

“Industrial partners need confidence that a real market exists for products they develop, and academic researchers in medical fields are close to the end users,” said Gilbert. “They can help define the needs and size of the various markets and provide key insights into how to position products so they are accepted by end users. They also help us to understand how technology can be applied in a medical setting, which may significantly improve product design and reduce development time.”

Stan Shapson, vice-president research & innovation at York, said York is committed to its role as the home base for the network. “With our outstanding researchers and with more than 50% of Canada’s medical device companies located within the region surrounding York University, this national network builds on our important regional strengths,” he said. “The network will provide important support to continue our collaborations and world-class research, while ensuring the translation of research outcomes into social and economic benefits for Canadians.”

York University is the leading interdisciplinary research and teaching university in Canada. York offers a modern, academic experience at the undergraduate and graduate level in Toronto, Canada’s most international city. The third largest university in the country, York is host to a dynamic academic community of 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, as well as 190,000 alumni worldwide.

Precarn 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 the R&D. Precarn provides access to an extensive national network of world-class researchers, innovative companies and sources of funding.

 

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