University of Toronto gains funding for AR, AI research

ModiFace technology lets users virtually manipulate their appearance, trying on makeup products and hair styles in 3D and real time. The company is hiring 50 Professional Experience Year (PEY) internship positions. (Photo courtesy: ModiFace)

Building off the University of Toronto’s (U of T’s) launch of its new Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in March, a company started by one of the school’s engineering professors has also unveiled plans to invest in its research.

Augmented reality (AR) startup ModiFace, founded by professor Parham Aarabi of the Edward S. Rogers Sr. department of electrical and computer engineering, is investing $4 million to support U of T research and create new undergraduate and graduate student internships.

ModiFace is launching the ModiFace Research Internships, which will allow 10 graduate students over the next two years to take part in a research internship while also working on their master’s or PhD studies.

Additionally, it will also establish a research grant program to support “industry-partnered research in fields from artificial intelligence and deep learning, to computer vision and graphics,” the company says, as well as hire 50 undergraduate students for 12 to 16-month paid positions as part of U of T Engineering’s Professional Experience Year (PEY).

ModiFace uses AR and AI to build advanced facial visualization software for the beauty and medical industries, with its technology powering applications for brands such as Sephora, L’Oreal, and Vichy.

However, Aarabi explains to IT World Canada that the company has had difficulty finding employees because of the niche market and lack of expertise. He hopes these internship programs will turn the tide.

“ModiFace is at a point where we’re scaling up to grow and meet demand, but we’re finding it challenging to find engineers that are actually experts in the AR domain,” he explains. “One major problem is that AR requires expertise in computer graphics, AI and systems engineering, so it’s hard to come up with engineers that are experts in all three domains. As a result, we decided the best thing to do would be to build from the ground up – start with U of T and their best engineering students, and train them as interns while they’re still at school so that by the time they graduate, we will have a significant number of capable engineers that could one day join us at ModiFace or in general, contribute to the AR space.”

He says Toronto is a great ecosystem to develop AR and AI skill and hopes that students completing the programs will stay in the city.

“ModiFace perfectly illustrates why U of T is the top university for research-based startups in North America,” Cristina Amon, dean of U of T’s faculty of applied science and engineering, says in an Apr. 11 press release. “This investment in enriched experiential learning opportunities for our students further reinforces the strong relationship between the excellence of our innovative engineering programs, and the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem around us.”

Reza Moridi, provincial minister of research, innovation and science, commends ModiFace and says the company’s new internship program will help Ontario’s engineering students “get the skills and training they need to succeed in the growing field of augmented reality.”

“The initiative dovetails with our government’s innovation strategy, including the recent launch of Ontario’s Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which will help  Ontario continue to attract top talent and strengthen our province’s innovation and knowledge-based economy,” he adds.


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