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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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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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