Ottawa startups turn to La Cité labs to accelerate prototype development

Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by La Cité. 

As it works to help autonomous vehicles recognize potential hazards – and navigate around pedestrians crossing the road – one of Ottawa’s most promising startups is turning to La Cité to help it develop and commercialize its machine learning technology.

SmartCone – which combines sensors, video cameras and motion detectors into a cylinder that can fit into a standard pylon or mount on any existing infrastructure – began its partnership with La Cité back in April to launch the school’s latest prototyping lab, the Centre d’expertises en prototypage intelligent (CEPI). The fully equipped innovation centre gives companies such as SmartCone access to the expertise and resources needed to advance and develop high-tech products and bring them to market. 

The startup is currently set up in the CEPI lab, working on an AI training set that would enable vehicle sensors to accurately differentiate between people, cars and buses – improving the safety of city streets once autonomous vehicles start hitting the road in large numbers. 

SmartCone is working closely with a team of La Cité researchers and students who are trained in machine learning and computer vision. Having access to that kind of expertise has been indispensable and has taken a lot of pressure off the SmartCone team, says Harry Andrei, lead architect at the startup. The students in the program can work independently on the project and find solutions to problems, allowing the company to accelerate the prototyping process.

“They give companies access to technologies that would otherwise be very expensive to have in-house,” adds Andrei. “The knowledge that La Cité brings with their staff and students is perhaps the most valuable part of all. I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Technology Access Center in Bio-Innovation (TAC-B)

La Cité opened its first applied research lab in 2009, which focuses on biotechnology research. 

Key features:

  • Fully equipped with DNA extractors, an anaerobic chamber and photoreactors

  • Works to develop projects in microbiology, analytical chemistry, biopro-cesses, tissue culture and molecular biology

  • Helps develop drug delivery mechanisms and diagnostic kits

The CEPI lab is equipped with 3D printers, artificial intelligence infrastructure and plenty of workspace that allows entrepreneurs to collaborate with students and researchers in a range of smart manufacturing fields. La Cité can also help facilitate access to government funding and grants. 

“It’s not just a one-way partnership,” says Andrei. “What they are helping us build today could become the foundation for courses that they can teach to students later on to bring them up to date on the latest technology. It’s a fantastic collaboration.”

La Cité is also partnering with health science industry leaders through another Applied Research Centre focused on bio-innovation. 

The Technology Access Center in Bio-innovation offers a range of application areas in biotechnology of health, agriculture and environment. One recent collaboration saw Agrisoma – a Gatineau biofuels company that’s raised millions of dollars in financing – advance its products in La Cité’s TAC-B labs.

“We are the right fit for companies because we are flexible and we can adapt to their needs,” says Nathalie Méthot, director of research and innovation at La Cité. “We’re creative when it comes to finding the right solutions for them as well as the resources they need to achieve their goals.”

This includes allowing companies with which they partner to retain all of the intellectual property rights arising from the collaborations. This approach maximizes La Cité’s impact on the local economy by ensuring Ottawa companies can commercialize their products.

“Our goal is to help train the next generation of talent by assisting our industry partners in achieving success,” Méthot says. “We want everyone involved to benefit from this experiential learning process.” 

Centre d’expertises en prototypage intelligent (CEPI)

La Cité’s most recent lab opened in 2019, which deals primarily in smart prototyping. 

Key features:

  • Areas of expertise include systems integration, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, smart manufacturing and cybersecurity

  • Accelerates innovation in three main areas: smart mobility, smart infrastructure, smart healthcare

  • Houses a range of technology including Graphics Processing Unit servers and workstations, AI infrastructure, welding stations and 3D printers