For the last five years, the research and development consortium known as SOSCIP has been working on advancing Ontario innovation with a simple vision – creating a collaborative research partnership to address important societal issues using advanced computing technologies and data science.
Whether it be agile computing, smart cities, mining, health, digital media, energy, cybersecurity, water, or advanced manufacturing, the organization is spurring Canadian innovation in Ontario forward by eliminating barriers that small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) face in this new world of big data.
In short, SOSCIP has partnered together with the likes of IBM Canada with universities such as the University of Toronto, all with support from the Ontario provincial government. And with IBM bringing its artificial intelligence technology, IBM Watson, to SOSCIP moving forward, that partnership aims to grow even stronger.
“It’s about supporting great ideas that are developing in Ontario,” said Elissa Strome, executive director of SOSCIP, when she sat down with ITWC at the SOSCIP 2017 Impact Conference.
Every project that comes out of SOSCIP gets support from SOSCIP Operations and Technical Support teams, a dedicated business development team at Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), the IBM Canada R&D Centre team, and the technical and research staff of SOSCIP partner Compute Ontario facilities – Centre for Advanced Computing at Queen’s University, SciNet at the University of Toronto, and SHARCNET at Western University.
Those are a whole lot of resources provided to these projects that are backed by academic and industry researchers with Ontario’s budding student population.
“Our number right now is 454 graduate students, undergraduate students, and post-doctorate students, who have all had the opportunity to work on these post collaborative R&D projects,” said Strome. “They get hands-on access to this amazing technology that they would not be able to get anywhere else.”
It’s companies like IBM Canada that are making this possible. IBM for instance is the one providing all of this advanced technology.
“It’s an R&D sense for us. At the time, we had this phrase ‘Make the Planet Smarter’. Well, how do we do that? How do we make the planet smarter?” said Pat Horgan, vice president of manufacturing, development & operations at IBM Canada. “A brand can help – a big company can bring together various groups and put together a little investment in technology. The idea was really that collaborative innovation is where the real solutions will come.”
And come they have, especially when it comes to healthcare. For instance, Vaughn Betz, a professor at the University of Toronto, is working with IBM and Theralase to build a simulator where light is inserted with fiber optic probes that travel within a patient’s body. This technology could be used for photodynamic therapy for cancer treatment as an option other than chemo.
Fei Chiang, a professor of computing and software at McMaster, is developing an adaptive data cleaning system for Watson Analytics. Her goal is to clean up poor data quality by creating software that can improve the quality and reduce the time it takes to clean data. Another example is Studio One, a company that has created blankets embedded with sensors that can discern various information – an ideal technology for newborns in hospitals.
All of these projects are facilitated by SOSCIP, with technology from corporations like IBM that get involved, and then further funded by the OCE through the Ontario government.
“[Five years ago] our government wasn’t as nimble as it is now. At the time it was a bit of a risk for both IBM and Ontario,” said Brad Duguid, MPP of Scarborough Town Centre. The Ontario government initially invested 20 million dollars to establish SOSCIP, and recently announced 20 million more. “We have completely restructured now. The government looks like a start up. If a proposal like SOSCIP came through now it would soar through – it’s very different.”
When SOSCIP was created, it partnered with seven universities in Ontario. Now it has partnered with 15 universities and 62 SMEs for 107 industry-academic collaborative projects.
“We want to always be able to offer the latest state of the art technology to our projects. That really is one of the fundamental principles of SOSCIP,” said Strome. “We want to offer technologies to SME’s that they can’t afford to get or can’t get anywhere else. We want to be able to give them the leading edge so that they can build their own businesses.”
That’s where the addition of IBM Watson comes in, plus an upgraded GPU that will allow for some of the processes that these projects are trying to achieve – especially as they start to use larger and larger data sets.
While SOSCIP may be dialed in on the technology sector for now, Strome foresees bigger and greater things for the consortium.
“I would like to see SOSCIP engage collaboratively with other large corporations. Our partnership with IBM has been phenomenal, but I think that there are other sectors that we can bring into SOSCIP where we can really make a difference. I’m thinking the automotive sector, the financial sector, the pharmaceutical sector. Other large sectors in Canada that we can bring our model to bare to help drive innovation,” said Strome.