From their very inception, AI and robotics have been about making laborious human tasks simpler, faster and more efficient. While we aren’t (yet) living like The Jetsons with Rosie the Robot in every home, intelligent machines are actively helping overwhelmed cities and municipalities manage infrastructure. There are currently roadways, commercial buildings, bridges and industrial machinery being monitored and analyzed by sophisticated technology brought to market by some of Canada’s sharpest minds. Read on for more about four companies that are leading the charge when it comes to integrating AI and robotics into everyday human life.
Launched in 2019, Toronto-based Reipower is an energy consulting business that works with commercial and industrial clients to identify, optimize and visualize sources of wasted energy — and wasted money. Lights left on, equipment left running or heating and cooling systems powering up at inefficient times of the day are all captured and analyzed by Reipower’s AI-driven metrics. Not only does AI reduce the time and cost of an energy audit for Reipower’s clients, but it also catches the not-so-obvious, such as the smallest plug loads, which add up when multiplied across an entire building.
“Energy waste happens a lot, which is not tracked because it’s not visualized,” says Kaushik Bhattacharjee, president of Reipower. “So first, we try various ways to see the magnitude of energy waste. Then we pinpoint specific issues, and from there is the opportunity to optimize.”
A notable partner project is RioCan’s Yonge Sheppard Centre in North York, where Bhattacharjee says they reduced the cooling system energy output by a whopping 30 percent. This achievement garnered Reipower the Innovative Project of the Year by the Association of Energy Engineers in 2022, and they are working on phase two of their analytics project to further optimize the Yonge Sheppard Centre.
Says Bhattacharjee: “Canada is talking about being net-zero by 2050. Energy efficiency is a very important component of decarbonization, and we are supporting that in large thanks to our partners.”
Energy waste happens a lot, which is not tracked because it’s not visualized,” says Kaushik Bhattacharjee, president of Reipower. “So first, we try various ways to see the magnitude of energy waste. Then we pinpoint specific issues, and from there is the opportunity to optimize.
With municipal roadways covering tens of thousands of kilometres, along with tightening budgets, growing populations and aging infrastructure, AI and robotics are a cost-effective fit for maintaining road networks. Enter CityROVER, a smart camera system designed to streamline road maintenance operations, says chief technology officer Roy Tal. “It is capable of automatically detecting and reporting road-based deficiencies such as potholes and broken maintenance holes. It also collects data about road-related assets, such as signs. With its automated data collection, cities can operate in a more productive, sustainable and efficient manner.”
Tal says AI in infrastructure planning and maintenance got started about 10 years ago, but the cost and the quality of data remained a barrier. Thanks to cloud computing, the simplification of AI tech libraries and powerful edge devices, CityROVER has been an accessible and affordable tool for cities large and small since its launch in 2020. With its help, municipal workers can monitor a greater expanse of road networks in a shorter period of time. “We consider the advancement akin to moving from manual transmission to automatic. It makes it easier to achieve the same task, but a person is still sitting at the wheel,” explains Tal. “Staff is now able to focus on other issues and allocate resources to address them faster and more effectively.”
This research arm of Queen’s University, formally the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, is an impressive group of more than 30 researchers and about 130 graduate students. To say they’re focused on AI, robotics and human-machine interaction is an understatement. Their 12,000-square-foot facility is a veritable hive of invention for land, sea and air applications, according to associate director Ramzi Asfour. “We have aerial vehicles and land-based vehicles, both wheeled and legged. And then we have an unscrewed surface vehicle — or robot boat — which give us access to water. We’re also investing in our own computing hardware; we have a GPU cluster to facilitate our AI work.”
When it comes to infrastructure, Asfour says AI and robotics help facilitate autonomous inspection quickly and efficiently. As an example, he references the constant monitoring and inspection of Montreal’s notoriously timeworn bridges and overpasses — an expensive undertaking for the city. Asfour’s teams are working on flight patterns for an autonomous drone that could safely fly in and around bridges, using computer vision and sensor techniques to assess the health and structural integrity of bridges. They are also working to deploy their Boston Dynamics Spot robot — or robot dog — for infrastructure inspection around construction sites.
“We’re an academic research lab that’s looking to engage with industry to solve real-world problems,” he says. “We have an opportunity called the Research Opportunity Seed Fund (ROSF) to encourage new relationships between our researchers and potential industry partners. The program enlists graduate students to work on well-defined problems. It’s a good way for companies to invest a little bit of time to explore how to apply robotics and AI in their businesses.”
Scheduled maintenance on industrial machinery helps avoid mechanical failures and safety issues but it comes with significant downtime and lost revenue. Through data collection and predictive analytics, SAROX’s secure platform can continuously monitor and assess machinery health. Seamlessly connecting into any control circuit through high-sensitivity clamps means the SAROX platform can build intelligent statistical modelling, or patterns, to identify minute faults and forecast failures from an early stage — long before a costly repair or unplanned shutdown.
From electric motors to generators to compressors, the advanced SAROX technology gathers anomalies among fine details that conventional sensors may miss such as vibrations, speed fluctuations or harmonics. Fewer failures and shorter shutdown periods also mean less stress on production and maintenance teams, which is exactly the purpose of AI and robotics as they integrate more and more into human-built systems.