Made in Ottawa: SmartCone adds safety to the connected city

SmartCone Technologies CEO and founder Jason Lee. (Photo by Mark Holleron)
Editor's Note

This story originally appeared in the most recent print edition of Techopia. Read the full publication here.

One year ago, Jason Lee took the stage at TiECon Canada’s annual pitchfest. In his hands was a black cylinder, a little bit bigger than a football.

Over the course of his 15-minute presentation, Lee tried to convince the audience of entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders that the SmartCone would make first responders, cyclists and construction workers alike safer.

Lee was successful. The pitchfest win was a confidence boost and his firm’s first funding to date, but it was just the start of a big year for SmartCone Technologies.

Connected cone

Lee, the CEO and founder of the local firm, says the SmartCone is the “missing link” in securing emergency situations. Placed inside the standard orange pylon casing or mounted separately, the device has a variety of sensors and capabilities that can either aid first responders or keep hazardous sites safe.

The SmartCone is equipped with video cameras and motion detectors and can identify invisible threats such as seismic activity, dangerous wind speeds and toxic gases. It can read licence plates of passing cars and recognize faces. All of this data is fed back into a live remote control room.

Its LIDAR capabilities can set up a “trip wire” of sorts that detects, for example, if an intruder or pedestrian wanders into a construction site. Onboard speakers can then alert trespassers to danger.

What elevates SmartCone is its easy setup and connectivity. Lee says its deployment is as simple as dropping a cone on site. The device has its own personal computing network that operates from the ground, a concept called “fog computing.”

SmartCone Technologies CEO and founder Jason Lee holds the cone device in the firm’s workshop space. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Think of the fog as the middle layer between the cloud and the device on the ground. It allows for certain processes, such as those triggered by movement, to be managed at the edge of the network instead of on the cloud’s remote servers.

Combined, the SmartCone’s capabilities mean plopping down a single orange cone could create a smart construction site capable of securing itself, or give extra eyes and ears to emergency responders in dynamic and unstable situations.

Getting them talking

Connected solutions are in high demand, Lee says, as governments and private sector employers seek to reduce worker casualties and improve on-site safety.

Lee says the company is making a splash lately with government transportation departments in states such as Florida and North Dakota, and that U.S. energy provider Exelon is making use of the cone when active power lines go down on roads.

The firm has been selected for U.S. telecom giant Verizon’s Innovation Center, which provides lab support and other resources to develop smart technologies and help bring them to market. IBM recently tapped SmartCone as a global partner, entering into a reselling agreement with the Ottawa startup.

“Everyone is talking SmartCone,” Lee says.

Here at home, the City of Ottawa has installed SmartCones along the O’Connor bike path at Waverly Street to provide more effective signalling to drivers.

Flashing lights indicate drivers should check the bike lanes before crossing O’Connor or turning onto Waverly. The cones’ sensors can detect approaching cyclists, but are smart enough to avoid activation if pedestrians walk within range or if bikes are heading in the opposite direction.

The SmartCone activates. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

On top of increasing safety, the SmartCone collects data for the city.

“They’re going to take the data and measure it against complaints,” Lee says, which should better inform future traffic decisions in the area.

For Ottawa, SmartCone helps the city keep up with the emerging smart cities trend, which uses connected devices to improve the delivery and efficiency of municipal services.

Made in Ottawa

Since last year’s TiECon, the SmartCone team has more than doubled in size to 15 people. Lee says the firm is still expanding, especially focusing on adding to the engineering team.

The company is headquartered out on Iber Road inside Stittsville’s L-D Tool & Die. The custom mould manufacturer has been incubating SmartCone since its inception, and the SmartCone has been moulded and manufactured in its workshops.

Lee says being a locally made product has been a source of pride, and is quick to give credit where it’s due. Without L-D Tool & Die, the SmartCone would be no smarter than any other orange pylon on the ground.

“They embrace the Ottawa manufacturing aspect, and they’re very, very good at it. From a startup perspective, having them is what made this all possible.”