Smart cities: Eye in the sky for a smoother commute

June 28, 2016— Kitchener, Ontario

CEO Kurtis McBride with Spectrum, a Miovision product which connects a municipality’s traffic operations to a traffic signal, shows what’s happening in real time, and provides analysis and insights which optimize traffic flow.

If you commute to work in Canada, chances are you’ve already benefitted from one of Miovision’s traffic management products. In fact, residents of more than 50 countries have likely experienced smoother commutes, thanks to the video streams and algorithms developed by the Kitchener, Ont. NRC-IRAP client.

According to Miovision, its mission is to provide the foundation for tomorrow’s “smart cities” by reinventing the way traffic data is managed today. With Miovision technology, city planners will make real-time decisions on traffic management, and have the ability to plan for better roads decades into the future.

Much of the hardware and software required to do this was developed over the last decade in collaboration with NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisors (ITA) Shimon Schwartz and later, Hisham Al-Zanoon. The relationship began shortly after Miovision was founded. It is the brainchild of three University of Waterloo engineering students who, following a season of counting cars in lawn chairs as summer jobs, vowed that there had to be a more accurate and less labour-intensive way for municipalities to plan roadways.

Appropriately, one of the first projects the young entrepreneurs tapped into was IRAP’s Youth Employment Program, recalled Miovision CEO Kurtis McBride.

“Of all the federal government programs and projects, IRAP is probably the best managed. It’s the most transparent about the process. It’s up front. If you have a good shot or no chance, they’ll tell you. It’s a very collaborative process.”

“We’ve been working with IRAP since the beginning,” he said. “We did some small projects early on at Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, and took advantage of the [Youth] program. It allowed us to hire people when we couldn’t have hired otherwise. And the impact of that was huge. It’s all about trying to leverage the dollars that we have to move faster and to do more.

“It’s always been about how we stretched our dollars to do our innovation,” he added.

Managing the traffic ecosystem

Numerous projects with NRC-IRAP followed, all with a goal of making Miovision the one-stop shop for traffic-related issues, including:

  • the development of infrastructure to share and process traffic video
  • databases to store massive amounts of files and data
  • strategies to speed up video processing and analysis time, and
  • technology to recognize license plates

“Miovision is responsible for the entire ecosystem of a city’s traffic automation system,” said Al-Zanoon, the firm’s current ITA. “As Miovision has grown, so has our relationship with the company.”

And grown it has. Six employees worked at Miovision in those early days in 2005-2006. Today, it employs more than 115.

“From inception, Miovision has been attracting and hiring highly qualified software engineers,” said Al-Zanoon. “Based on the projected growth plan, Mr. McBride is expecting to double the company’s head count by 2020.”

For McBride, the benefits of working with NRC-IRAP go beyond advice and funding support. The positives are systemic in nature.

“Of all the federal government programs and projects, IRAP is probably the best managed,” he said. “It’s the most transparent about the process. It’s up front. If you have a good shot or no chance, they’ll tell you. It’s a very collaborative process. On the backend, it’s simple and straightforward. With IRAP, it’s always been very reasonable.”

The future looks bright for Miovision, one of Canada’s fastest growing technology companies (according to Deloitte). NRC-IRAP is currently helping the firm develop a new device equipped with advanced cameras, sensors and radio frequency channels, said Al-Zanoon. This new IRAP-funded project will further support Miovision’s competitive and leadership position in the market, and support its growth strategy.

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