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High-tech meets high-fashion: Ontario company may finally win eyewear technology race

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An Ontario tech start-up thinks it has the foresight to succeed where giant international technology companies have stumbled.

Using North Inc.’s glasses, called Focals, people will be able to interact with Amazon’s digital helper, Alexa. They’ll also be able to connect to their phones using Bluetooth and check various phone apps. such as the weather … without blocking the user’s view.

But unlike like the clunkier models built by other tech companies, the Waterloo technology firm has created high-tech for your eyes that focuses on high-fashion, and is “hidden by design,” according to North Inc.’s promotional video.

Tuesday, North Inc. unveils its second showroom in the world at 113 Ossington Ave. The only other one so far is in Brooklyn, New York.

The company said it picked the two markets because they are leaders in fashion design and they are technology innovation hubs.

Glasses mix ‘magic’ of technology with high fashion 

Adam Ketcheson, the company’s chief marketing officer, said Focals have been designed with just as much emphasis on “aesthetics” as technology.

“Whereas most of the companies that have come before us have tried to shrink all the information that’s on your cell phone and essentially stick it in front of your eyes, we’ve really focused on trying to only give you the information that allows you to stay connected.”

The glasses will use a microphone and can display things such as the time and weather, but there’s no camera on the device, and it’s operated by a ring on your finger. (North Inc.)

The eyewear, which retails at roughly $1,000, leverages the “magic” of technology with a hidden holographic display that projects images about an arms length in front of your eyes, Ketcheson said.

The concept isn’t new. Google, Intel and Samsung are among the tech giants that have tried and failed to introduce high- tech glasses into the market.

Will humans ever like wearing computers on their faces? 

Duncan Stewart, the director of research for Technology, Media and Telecommunications with Deloitte Canada, already tested Focals and said he appreciates the “sharp” design, however he is skeptical consumers are ready for digital eyewear.

“At the end of the day it’s actually about human psychology. If human beings won’t wear goggles of any kind because they don’t like wearing computers on their faces then that’s the problem,” he said.

“I found the process of looking [at the digital display] and talking to somebody… and shifting my focus back and forth to be an effort,” said Stewart.

“I suspect that there will be people who don’t mind that effort or don’t mind overcoming that effort, but I wonder if we want really to be constantly shifting our focus and importing information in this way.”

He blasted other companies’ attempts at digital glasses for being too tech-focused.

Duncan Stewart, the director of research for Technology, Media and Telecommunications with Deloitte Canada, is skeptical the eyewear will catch on with consumers because it takes ‘effort.’ (Deloitte Canada)

“The [previous] glasses were also pretty big, pretty bulky and made you look awfully geeky,” Stewart said.

“Consumers voted with their wallets and with their attention and said, ‘We don’t like these things for a whole bunch of reasons,’ and that’s where we are right about now.”

Stewart said it’s no surprise a Canadian company could be poised to succeed, though, because Canada continues to be a “magnet” for homegrown and international technology companies.

“Canadians are brilliant and it doesn’t even vaguely surprise me that it is possible that a Canadian firm may be one of the ones working on new and interesting wearable technology,” Stewart said.  

Not ‘techno-fetishism’ and that’s a good thing, researcher says

Isabel Pedersen, the Canada research chair in Digital Life Media and Culture at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, said society has substantially changed since the first iterations of digital eyewear first came on the market.

Now. she said, people are constantly using “wearables” — technologically-advanced gear from watches to fish-eyed cameras strapped to our foreheads.

Isabel Pedersen, the Canada research chair in Digital Life Media and Culture at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, says new high tech glasses may succeed because society is overall more ‘savvy’ about tech. (University of Ontario Institute of Technology)

“The customer is a lot more sophisticated when it comes to the idea of wearable technology. Just from what they’re doing in their everyday life,” said Pedersen.

She also pointed out that consumers as a whole have demanded more from tech companies to protect privacy and not infringe on it.

For example, the previous iterations of high-tech glasses had cameras that some consumers would have found “disturbing” the researcher said. However, Focals do not have a camera as part of the lens.

Google Glasses also seemed to be going after a niche market, whereas Focals are trying to target the mainstream and will customize the eyewear for the individual users fashion.

“[Google Glasses were] sort of all bound up in techno-fetishism and the desire to get technology for technology’s sake. Now we’ve really moved past that as citizens and users were much more interested in what technology will provide for us.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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