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Research & development

College network to tackle real-world challenges

TORONTO and OTTAWA – Ontario has launched the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII), a network that links 10 of the province’s top colleges located along the technology corridor between Ottawa and Windsor.

The colleges will focus on developing new solutions for the healthcare and safety sectors in conjunction with industry partners.

The colleges are: Algonquin, Centennial, Conestoga, Fanshawe, George Brown, Humber, Niagara, St. Clair, Seneca and Sheridan . With a focus on applied versus pure research, the network is making it easier for industry partners to access the research expertise they need in order to remain competitive in today’s global marketplace.

“Ontario colleges have always provided skilled employees and training to business. Now we’re building on that success to provide research, development and commercialization services in key economic sectors across the province,” says Katharine Janzen, Chair of the CONII Steering Committee and Vice-President, Research and Innovation, at Toronto ’s Seneca College .

The assistance provided by CONII members can range from incremental innovation, needs assessment, and knowledge or technical transfer, to product or process development, prototype building and proof of concept projects, she adds.

Funded by a three-year, $3.5 million grant through the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Ontario Research Commercialization Program (ORCP), CONII was launched to develop research projects with businesses that make effective use of faculty expertise, provide students with real-world learning opportunities, and ultimately help to solve real-world problems.

Some of the innovative projects currently under way in the health and safety sector are:

A new collaborative diagnostics service that supports the use of point-of-care medical devices in the home, enabling healthcare professionals to deliver care remotely so that seniors can remain at home.

The Laboratory of Collaborative Diagnostics at the University of Toronto capitalized on the expertise of George Brown College (GBC) to create a specialized computer case capable of housing the essential electronic components and circuitry necessary to connect standard medical devices to a remote diagnostic network.

Having developed the computer software to support remote diagnostics, the lab needed GBC’s rapid prototyping and packaging facilities to explore design options for the computer case, which houses medical devices such as a blood pressure cuff, microscope or camera.

“The idea was to build a small, commodity-engineered, off-the-shelf computer system that can run anywhere,” explains Robert Luke, Director, Office of Applied Research and Innovation at GBC. “We had the expertise and facilities to do that fabrication for them.”

Out of four prototypes developed by the college, one was eventually selected and is currently being tested for commercialization. The university laboratory expects to use the case to deliver a number of homecare services on a barebones system for $300, bringing the province’s pledge to keep Canadians in their homes longer one step closer to reality. Meanwhile, the college’s engineering students are benefitting from the opportunity to design and build future devices for the home healthcare monitoring network.

The creation of a comprehensive on-line course in disaster and emergency management, coupled with ongoing development of a full-scale simulation environment used to prepare health and safety professionals for emergency response, and test new technologies.

Centennial College is working with four academic partners – Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences, George Brown College , Ryerson University and the University of Toronto – as well as numerous industry partners across the Greater Toronto area, to enhance public safety through the development of an innovative, Web-based instructional tool designed to promote interprofessional collaboration during an emergency.

It also continues to enhance its Scarborough , Ont.-based advanced emergency simulation centre, created following the SARS outbreak in 2003 and designed as a true-to-life place for community and industry partners to test safety-related products and processes.

The new eight-week Interprofessional Disaster and Emergency Action Studies (IDEAS) course is available to students from health and safety disciplines, including medicine, nursing, allied health, police, paramedicine, social services and pharmacy. As a culminating activity, they participate in a mock emergency staged at Centennial’s simulation centre, either role-playing as a victim, shadowing a professional, or serving as an observer.

As Trish Dryden, Centennial Director, Applied Research Centre, explains, the goal is to give students a better understanding of how various roles work together in an emergency, to give health and emergency professionals a way to test procedures and plans, and to provide businesses with a comprehensive test bed for emergency-related technologies.

“We take a seamless approach that enables inter-professional communication and collaboration through high-fidelity simulation, whether paramedics, firefighters, police officers or hospital staff. Professionals across disciplines learn more about how their actions impact each other, which is critical in helping to save lives in actual disasters and emergencies,” says Dryden.

To date, Centennial has completed seven full-scale community exercises involving more than 3,500 students, faculty and professionals. For example, the Rouge Valley Health System in eastern Toronto recently used the college’s simulation centre to stage a dirty bomb explosion in order to test its processes for decontamination and evacuation of patients.

Anvil Technologies Inc. of Toronto also collaborated with the centre to test and fine tune its RECoN wireless communications solution, using live voice, video and data feeds to provide timely, meaningful information to enhance the situational awareness of participants in the simulation exercise. All five institutional partners have signed on for a second iteration of the on-line course beginning in September 2008.

The design of a graphical user interface that will bring the benefits of a three-dimensional virtual reality “cave” – used by psychologists to treat irrational phobias – to an even wider audience. Students in Algonquin College ’s industry-leading video game development program are working with the Cyberpsychology Lab at Université du Québec en Outaouais to develop a commercially viable version of a highly specialized simulation tool.

In the university research setting, the existing tool combines polarized goggles and images projected onto each of the six surfaces of a room (four walls, floor and ceiling) to create a three-dimensional virtual reality scene that appears life-like. If a patient suffers from a phobia of spiders (arachnophobia), spiders are gradually introduced into the virtual scene in different sizes, numbers and ranges of motion, allowing the patient to overcome the fear in a progressive manner.

The graphical user interface designed by the college students makes it possible to develop a more compact, portable version of the technology that doesn’t require specialized technical expertise to run. Patients still wear special glasses but instead of being in a six-sided room, they can sit in front of a laptop computer and experience the same virtual reality – making the tool a viable option for office settings.

“This is an excellent example of the synergy between colleges, universities and industry,” notes John Omura, Project Manager, Applied Research and Innovation, at Algonquin. “It further demonstrates that the skillsets we develop at the college level are very complementary to the objectives of university researchers and professionals.”

The lightweight version of the simulation tool will initially be distributed to cyperpsychology researchers and practitioners across Canada who are participating in the Canada Cyberpsychology and Anxiety Virtual Lab. It is also expected to have additional commercial potential in markets outside of Canada.

The economic sectors targeted by CONII include alternative energy, environmental technologies and construction, digital media, health and life sciences, hospitality and tourism, information and communication technologies, manufacturing and materials, and viticulture and agri-business. However, all businesses are welcome and encouraged to contact their local college industry innovation centre for help with research, innovation and commercialization. The college network aims to complete 50 applied research projects by the end of 2009

For more information about CONII and its member colleges, please visit