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In the News: Ottawa IoT firm SmartCone's 'rapid collaboration group' aids COVID-19 fight

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When Jason Lee first started hearing almost two months ago about nationwide lockdowns to thwart the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, his instinct for collaboration didn’t take long to kick in.

Almost immediately, Lee – the founder of Stittsville-based SmartCone Technologies – put out a call for help on his LinkedIn channel. He was looking for technology and industrial partners to work with SmartCone on solutions that would aid frontline workers during the crisis and get companies back on their feet as fast as possible once COVID-19 restrictions eased.  

The response, as he puts it, was “overwhelming.” The SmartCone 19 Task Force now counts more than 110 members from around the world, including some of the planet’s biggest corporations. 

“The task force is really trying to respond quickly to combine innovation from around the world and bring together some of the top-performing people who are otherwise stuck at home,” says Lee, whose 15-person startup makes data-collection sensors that are deployed everywhere from construction sites to autonomous vehicles. “This gives them the ability to help out and push the … response as fast as we can.”

Over the past six weeks, SmartCone and what Lee calls the “rapid collaboration group” have teamed up on a range of initiatives. 

In New Mexico, the company worked with the City of Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico to create a commercial-grade Wi-Fi zone for low-income neighbourhoods that didn’t have access to affordable high-speed internet. 

Closer to home, SmartCone has just partnered with southern Ontario-based Clarion Drone Academy on a project that will use SmartCone’s sensors to guide unmanned devices as they spray disinfectant throughout factories, office towers, tech parks and other facilities in preparation for welcoming employees back to work. The company is getting set to launch a trial next month and already has half a dozen customers from hospitals to casinos lined up.

“We hope it’ll grow into a really nice, tight partnership,” Lee says of the revenue-sharing arrangement with Clarion, which is training the drone pilots. “On both sides, we see that there’s potential here for us to collaborate … and really grow.”

Lee and his team are also using their ingenuity to develop products that extend beyond sensors.

In partnership with Stittsville injection mould-maker L-D Tool & Die ​– whose founder, Laurie Dickson, is part-owner of SmartCone ​– the company has designed an arm-like plastic tool that allows users to open doors and push buttons without touching them. This week, SmartCone is set to debut a plastic device similar to a bicycle grip that attaches to grocery cart handles so shoppers can avoid direct contact with the carts.

“Everybody knows those handles are disgusting,” Lee says. “You snap these things on and it just works phenomenal.”

SmartCone is also working with task force partners such as Microsoft, Accenture and others on wearable sensors and software that will monitor employees’ temperature, heart rates and other vital signs and track anybody who shows symptoms of COVID-19 when they return to the office. Lee says he’s hoping to create “wellness areas” where those potentially infected with the coronavirus can be monitored and assisted by health-care professionals before being safely sent home.

The ultimate goal of these and other programs, he says, is “to prevent having a global shutdown in the future” should more waves of COVID-19 arrive or another health crisis arise.

It’s a lofty goal to be sure, but then SmartCone is used to reaching for the stars ​– one of the many other projects it’s involved is a platform to measure temperature, vibrations and other atmospheric conditions on the surface of the moon and funnel that data back to researchers and companies here on Earth.

That desire to push boundaries is paying off. SmartCone more than tripled its revenues from all of 2019 in the first three months of this year alone, and the firm was on pace for a tenfold year-over-year increase before COVID-19 hit.

“It’s really ambitious, but our goal is to really be one of Canada’s next biggest companies,” Lee says.



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