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Local invention Skizee ready to rip on the province’s ski hills

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When people see Jim Maidment using his motorized skiing invention, they sometimes stop their cars to get a closer look.

“I’ve had people traipse across frozen ponds with three feet [about a metre] of snow just to get to me,” said the Newfoundland and Labrador resident.

The Skizee Woodsrunner is powered by a four-stroke engine, which drives a track similar to a snowmobile. An articulated arm pushes the rider, who activates the drive via a trigger on the handle. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

“I was out on a lake, and I came back to my car and there was a guy there. And he said, ‘I saw you on the lake but I could not figure out how you were doing that. I had to track you down, because all I could see was a man cruising across the lake on a pair of skis, and I could not see how he was doing it.'”

The eye-catching invention is called the Skizee — a piece of equipment that can fit in the trunk of a car, and allows you to ski uphill or cross-country snowboard. 

After many years living in Maidment’s head, and nearly two more at Memorial University’s Genesis Centre, the Skizee, which is made in the province, is ready to hit the slopes and the market, after six years of field testing and developing prototypes.

The idea

Maidment came up with the idea as a boy in Goose Bay. The local ski resort, Snow Goose Mountain, had persistent issues with its chair lift, leaving Maidment slogging to the top every time he wanted to ski back down.

“And I thought then, ‘If there was only a way to have motorized skis, it would be as good as anti-gravity to me. I would have so much fun,'” he said.

Maidment says he got the idea for motorized skis as a 10-year old boy, skiing at Snow Goose Mountain in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

The idea stuck with him. Maidment became a carpenter and industrial mechanic. In other words, a tinkerer. One day, he bought an electric scooter for his youngest daughter, and his old idea came roaring back.

“As I was looking at it, I sort of thought, I wonder if I could make this work. So I started with an electric motor, a few batteries and a couple of BMX wheels with chains on them, and I was able to go on the flats and whatever,” he said. 

“And it worked; it just wasn’t enough. So I built a bigger one. Eventually, after 10 prototypes and building up to what’s safe and usable, this is the end result.”

How it works

The Skizee has a four-stroke engine, which drives a track similar to a snowmobile. An articulated arm splits into a fork, which rests on the rider’s lower back. Grab the handles, pull the trigger and the track rotates, pushing the rider through the snow. You can glide effortlessly over flat terrain, even zoom uphill.

He calls it power skiing.

Maidment can ride the Skizee with one hand while holding a GoPro camera in the other. (Jim Maidment)

“This here is the best thing that came along since downhill skiing, or cross-country skiing or the snowmobile.” said Maidment. “It’s the most fun I can have in a compact unit where I don’t have to go and slog.”

For storage and transport, the Skizee arm collapses and folds on top of the unit. The whole thing is a little larger than a vacuum cleaner. 

“It usually takes me longer to put on my ski boots than to set this up,” said Maidment.

From the wilderness to the Genesis Centre

The Skizee went from a hobby to a business when Maidment showed it to an old friend in Labrador, Donna Paddon.

“Jim and I knew each other from high school, way back when,” Paddon said. “I was invited out to try the machine, thought it was absolutely fabulous. I loved it.”

The two formed a company, Roshell Industries, and about 18 months ago went to St. John’s to participate in the Genesis Centre, Memorial University’s business incubator to access its resources, she said. 

Donna Paddon is CEO of Roshell Industries, the company she and Maidment founded to produce the Skizee. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

Roshell Industries is the first Labrador company to set up shop at the Genesis Centre. With their new resources, Maidment and Paddon continued work on the machine, but they also developed a business strategy, marketing ideas and contacts with manufacturers.

“We’re producing a small number of machines for first entry, and we’ll be looking to partner with ski resorts throughout the province, so that people who want to try them will have the opportunity to do so at the resorts,” said Paddon, now CEO of Roshell Industries. 

A clean look at the Skizee Woodsrunner from the company’s website. (Skizee)

First in line to buy the Skizee is Snow Goose Mountain, Maidment’s old stomping ground.

“It’s been closed for about 15 years. There’s a young Indigenous entrepreneur who is opening Snow Goose this winter. And we’re so excited to be partnering with him as our first customer for sales within the province,” said Paddon.

Cross-country snowboarding? It works. Reporter Zach Goudie can’t ski, so he tried the Skizee on a snowboard. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

Renting a Skizee at a ski resort will be more practical for most riders, but the truly enthusiastic can order one for themselves — it retails for $4,990.

“We’re just absolutely thrilled to be taking this out and to be finally able to offer this as a product to people who’ve been wanting it for such a long time,” said Paddon.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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