What’s been made at Ottawa’s MadeMill?

Robot Missions
Erin Kennedy – seen with her treasured robotic companion, Bowie – is one of the local entrepreneurs who has developed a prototype at MadeMill. (Photo by Mark Holleron)
Editor's Note

Learn more about MadeMill's first year of operations in this Techopia story.

Techopia was curious about exactly what had come out of MadeMill after its first year in operation. We went down to Bayview Yards earlier this month and sat down with the startups to hear how they’d benefited from the makerspace and digital media lab and, more importantly, to check out what they’d made. 

Robot Missions

Product: A 3D-printed robot that cleans public spaces

How it happened: Originally conceived of as a way to make art-by-robot, the Robot Missions took on a bigger scope over the course of its development. This summer, the rolling robot Bowie has been cleaning up Westboro Beach alongside creator Erin Kennedy.

Bowie’s drive system was forged with a combination of 3D-printed components and parts cut from Bayview Yard’s water jet. MadeMill also provided the Catalyst pod, a solar-powered outpost on the beach where Bowie can recharge and Kennedy can make her adjustments.

Lessons learned? “Even if you encounter a problem, there’s always creative solutions around it. As long as you’re resourceful, you’ll be able to solve it.”

Incuvers

Product: A small-scale incubator for scientific research

How it happened: A 3D printer helped the Incuvers team to fine-tune the device’s sealing mechanisms and protective covers, but the difference-maker was MadeMill’s in-house Voltera system.

“I was really happy when I found out they had one,” Hadjiantoniou says.

Incuvers
Incuvers CEO and co-founder Sebastian Hadjiantoniou holds a circuit board critical to his company’s incubator.  Photo by Mark Holleron

The Voltera offers an automated alternative to hand-printing circuit boards, a painstaking pin-setting process that can go wrong any number of ways. Rather than sending it out to an expensive expert to do it by hand – with no guarantee of accuracy – the Voltera system automates soldering over the course of an afternoon.

“We did that in three hours. It would’ve taken someone else a week,” Hadjiantoniou says.

Lessons learned? “Measure twice, cut once. I think that’s the general rule.”

AirShare

Product: 3D-printed guided missiles for disabling drones

How it happened: AirShare’s guided missiles target drones in dangerous airspaces and explode when closeby, deploying a latex cloud that neutralizes a threat in mid-air. What makes the drone-disabling missiles so useful for special forces is that they’re 3D printed, drastically reducing the cost and logistics of transporting hefty tech to the frontlines.

AirShare
AirShare CEO Rick Whittaker displays one of his company's missiles, 3D-printed in just 10 hours at MadeMill (Photo by Mark Holleron)

The 3D printing innovation brought the production timeline down from 12 weeks to just 10 hours, and has greatly improved AirShare’s value proposition.

“We now offer an option where you can 3D print this in the field,” CEO Rick Whittaker says.

Lessons learned? “Rapid prototyping is always the way to go.”

Crypto4A

Product: Cryptographic defence against cyber attacks

How it happened: Nearly every challenge in Crypto4A’s prototyping journey has come down to a conversation with the prototypeD team about how to approach a problem, such as new configurations for the cryptographic product’s faceplate.

Crypto4A
Crypto4A president Bruno Couillard with the firm's fully-encased cybersecurity product. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Having an in-house support staff, that’s relatively easy. The alternative would’ve been relying on a manufacturer in the United States or China, where the lines of communication are far less direct. If that were the case, Crypto4A president Bruno Couillard isn’t sure the product would’ve ever gotten built.

Lessons learned? “You really are able to quickly see the same things … It may never occur if you were to do it over an internet conversation.”

MasterpieceVR

Product: Collaborative virtual reality and 3D modelling application

How it happened: MasterpieceVR allows design teams and creative individuals to collaborate remotely in a virtual space, bringing their collective imaginations to bear on a sculpture or painting.

Masterpiece VR
MasterpieceVR CEO Jonathan Gagne, with vice-president of engineering Jeff Ross under the goggles. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

The advent of 3D printing, however, makes many of these virtual creations physically possible. Rather than remaining in the application, colourful trees and futuristic vehicles can be brought to life as scale models or fantastical decorations.

Smats Traffic Solutions

Product: Sensors to track traffic analytics

How it happened: Smats can harvest valuable traffic analytics, such as vehicle occupancy or the time it takes to get across a border, through its mounted sensors.

SMATS
Smats founder Amir Ghods holds the firm's traffic data sensor in the MadeMill workshop. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

In order to protect these devices from weather or vandals, the team turned to the manufacturing facilities at MadeMill to create a heavy metal enclosure.

Lessons learned? “We had some suggestions – this is the idea – and they actually gave us advice, the best way of doing it,” says founder Amir Ghods.