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    Designing Canada’s neurotech future

    Join Queen’s researchers and representatives from industry, government, and NGOs as they collaborate to solve the technological, ethical, legal, and policy issues of the latest tech focused on our brains, neurotechnology.

    [Photo of a MRI of a brain by Donald Brien]
    Art of Research 2020 Winner: "The Wiring of the Brain" by Donald Brien (Centre for Neuroscience Studies)

    As new technologies develop, designing them for human benefit can be a complex challenge. Neurotechnology, considered any tool used to measure, intervene on, or artificially stimulate brain function, is an emerging technology with extensive potential societal impact. It has already demonstrated advanced applications to help those with neurological disorders, while also attracting the eyes of Silicon Valley and those with interests in its surveillance and personal augmentation potential. However, getting the human benefit right requires collaboration between different disciplines, beyond computing and AI, to fully grasp the social, ethical, and legal impact this technology can have on our lives.

    Researchers across faculties at Queen’s are bringing this conversation to the forefront with A Neurotech Future: Ethical, Legal and Policy Issues, an open online workshop on Thursday, April 22. It is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to explore the Future Challenge area “Humanity+,” “balancing risks and benefits in the emerging surveillance society.” Queen's experts from the Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Surveillance Studies Centre, and Faculties of Law and Engineering and Applied Science with representatives from government, industry, and NGOs and co-sponsorship from the Ontario Brain Institute and the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, will mobilize their thought leadership with tech innovators and policymakers building and defining this new industry in Canada. Collaborations and learnings from the workshop will lead to a policy report on neurotech and surveillance and outcomes will be presented to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics.

    Susan Boehnke (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies) is the Lead Organizer of the event. Working with David Lyon (Surveillance Studies Centre) and Martha Bailey (Law), she explains why this was the right time for Queen’s researchers to facilitate this discussion.

    “As neurotechnology becomes increasingly applied to novel use scenarios, it is imperative that we develop laws and policies to protect privacy, to guard against misuse of technologies for surveillance, and ensure that the benefits of a neurotech future are distributed in an equitable and democratic way,” says Dr. Boehnke. “Queen’s University is uniquely positioned to engage in cross-disciplinary research and to develop the innovative training programs that will support the growth of this industry and position Canada as a leader. Researchers at Queen’s are already exploring the scientific, technical, legal, ethical, and policy issues related to the use of neurotechnologies. Our hope is that this conference will act as a catalyst to facilitate more cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

    In working through the now and future societal implications of neurotechnology, students have an important role in this workshop and its outcomes. Graduate students from the Centre for Neuroscience Studies and the Surveillance Studies Centre will collaborate with students from Merlin Neurotech (a chapter of NeuroTechX) and the Neuroscience and Policy Society in a working group to support interdisciplinary collaboration. Their contributions will help inform a new curriculum for a graduate-level course in Neuroethics open to students across the university. Insights from the workshop may also inform the development of a unique certificate or post-graduate diploma in neurotech, guided by neuroethics, and geared to business, computer science, and engineering students without a neuroscience background eager to enter the industry.

    Highlights from the public workshop will include a morning keynote on the Canadian Brain Research Strategy from Judy Illes, Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia and Director of Neuroethics Canada. An afternoon keynote will be delivered by John Weigelt, National Technology Officer at Microsoft, on lessons from responsible AI informing successful collaborations in policy and regulation. Panels will focus on current and future innovations in neurotech, surveillance and data privacy, and implications for the legal system, as well as perspectives from industry and government.

    The Thursday, April 22 event is free and open to the public with registration and full schedule available on Eventbrite. Those interested in the working group sessions on Friday, April 23 are encouraged to contact the organizers.

    Celebrating teaching awards together

    For the first time, the Teaching Awards Celebration will bring together award recipients from across the university.

    Principal Patrick Deane and Vice-Principal (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce host the 2019 Principal's Teaching and Learning Awards at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre .
    In 2019, Principal Patrick Deane and Vice-Principal (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce hosted the 2019 Principal's Teaching and Learning Awards at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. (Queen's University / Bernard Clark)

    Each year, teaching awards at Queen’s University are conferred to educators and staff who have excelled in fostering innovative, interesting, and inclusive learning environments.

    In particular, the past year has been particularly challenging for the university’s instructors as the majority of programs and courses had to be switched to remote formats in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    At a time when collaboration is more important than ever, this year’s Teaching Awards Celebration will bring together recipients from the various teaching awards that are given out by sponsors including the Principal, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning), School of Graduate Studies, Queen’s University Alumni Association, as well as the Alma Mater Society (AMS) and the Society for Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS).

    It marks the first time in Queen’s 23-year history of the teaching awards that the event will be a truly university-wide sponsored celebration. The event will be hosted online due to COVID-19 restrictions, on Wednesday, March 24, starting at 4:30 pm.

    “This year, we combine our efforts as staff, administrators, undergraduate students, graduate students/teaching fellows, and alumni to confer all the university-wide teaching awards together and to celebrate the remarkable efforts and achievements in a teaching and learning environment like no other,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “While this will be a virtual celebration, we all look forward to the day when we can celebrate together in person.”

    Celebrate together

    The celebration will stream via "Live Premiere" on the Office of the Principal’s YouTube channel at 4:30 pm on March 24, and will remain available afterwards for those unable to attend.

    Members of the Queen’s community are encouraged to join the YouTube broadcast while it is streaming, and share the link with any colleagues, family, or friends who might be interested. No registration is required.

    The Live Chat function will be enabled to allow attendees to join the celebration of teaching conversation, and to congratulate the award recipients. These congratulations will remain in the comments on the video, after the broadcast.

    During the celebration of the university-wide awards, faculty and departmental teaching award recipients will also be honoured and will be listed in the program and at the end of the ceremony.  A teaching awards directory is available on the Centre for Teaching and Learning website.


    AMS Awards

    Christopher Knapper Award for Excellence in Teaching Assistance
    • 2019-20 Richard Patenaude, Department of Political Studies
    • Fall 2020 Josh Zacks, Department of Chemical Engineering

    Undergraduate Research Mentorship Award
    • 2019-20 Bhavin Shastri, Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy
    • 2019-20 Carolyn Smart, Department of English Language and Literature
    • Fall 2020  Matthias Spitzmuller, Smith School of Business

    Frank Knox Award
    • 2019-20 Stéphanie Martel, Department of Political Studies
    • Fall 2020 Stephanie Lind, Dan School of Drama and Music

    Society of Graduate and Professional Students Awards

    SGPS Teaching Assistant/Teaching Fellow Award
    • 2019-20 Taylor J. Smith, School of Computing

    SGPS John G. Freeman Faculty Excellence Award
    • 2019-20 Shobhana Xavier, School of Religion

    Principal’s Teaching and Learning Awards

    Indigenous Education Award (sponsored by the Centre for Teaching and Learning)
    • 2020 Lindsay Morcom, Faculty of Education
    • 2020 Melanie Howard, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science
    • 2021 Armand Ruffo, Department of English Language and Literature

    Michael Condra Outstanding Student Service Award (sponsored by the Office of Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs)
    • 2020 Joan Jones, Housing and Ancillary Services
    • 2021 Lisa Webb, Student Affairs, Ban Righ Centre

    Promoting Student Inquiry Award (sponsored by the Queen’s Library)
    • 2020 Una D’Elia, Art History and Art Conservation
    • 2021 Asha Varadharajan, Department of English Language and Literature

    Educational Technology Award (sponsored by Information Technology Services)
    • 2020 Ryan Martin, Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy
    • 2021 Christian Muise, School of Computing
    • 2021 Mohammad Auais, School of Rehabilitation Therapy (Team)
    • 2021 Nancy Dalgarno, Office of Professional Development & Educational Scholarship (Team)
    • 2021 Julie Cameron, School of Rehabilitation Therapy (Team)
    • 2021 Jennifer Turnnidge, Office of Professional Development & Educational Scholarship (Team)
    • 2021 Lucie Pelland, School of Rehabilitation Therapy (Team)
    • 2021 Klodiana Kolomitro, Office of Professional Development & Educational Scholarship (Team)

    International Education Innovation Award (sponsored by Office of the Vice-Provost (International))
    • 2021 Isabelle Brent, Bader International Study Centre
    • 2020 Jennifer Hosek, Languages, Literatures and Cultures

    School of Graduate Studies

    Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision
    • 2020 Liying Cheng, Faculty of Education
    • 2020 Mark Stephen Diederichs, Department of Geological Sciences & Geological Engineering

    Queen’s University Alumni Association

    Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching Assistance
    • 2019 Holly Ogden, Faculty of Education
    • 2020 Anne Petitjean, Department of Chemistry

    Office of the Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning)

    Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award
    • 2020 Wendy Powley, School of Computing
    Wendy Powley is an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science’s School of Computing, where she has taught for more than years. In her work at Queen’s (which has also included teaching with the Faculty of Education and Arts and Science Online), she has consistently demonstrated excellence in instruction and innovation, leadership, collaboration, and the linking of research with teaching. In courses spanning the undergraduate experience, Powley has deeply impacted student learning with thoughtful course designs, substantial curricular development, and important program coordination. She serves as a department leader in teaching with numerous service roles and mentorship of colleagues, both before and during the shift to remote teaching prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also demonstrated a commitment to equity through her work encouraging women in computing in professional and community organizations alike. Powley’s commitment to teaching and learning is an inspiration to students, faculty, and staff at Queen’s and beyond

    • 2021 Claire Davies, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
    Claire Davies is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. Since coming to Queen’s in 2015, she has consistently fostered a supportive environment for undergraduate and graduate teaching and learning, emphasizing interdisciplinary, experiential, and project-based learning. Dr. Davies has demonstrated a commitment to accessibility, inclusion, and connecting research and teaching through courses that leverage academic resources and her own Building and Designing Assistive Technology Lab to meet assistive technology needs in the community. Through numerous research studies on her blended and active learning teaching strategies, Dr. Davies has deeply impacted student learning at Queen’s and beyond. It is clear that in teaching, research, and service at Queen’s and in her professional discipline, Dr. Davies achieves her own goal of leading by example.

    (Note: Any 2020-21 award recipients who were not chosen in time to be part of this ceremony, will be invited to next year’s event.)

    Other celebration contributors:
    In addition to the conferring of the above awards, there will be special contributions to the 2021 Teaching Awards Celebration by:
    • Kanonhsyonne Jan Hill, Director, Office of Indigenous Issues
    • Wendy Powley, 2020 Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award Recipient
    • Claire Davies, 2021 Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award Recipient
    • Mark Green, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)

    Video call system to reduce PPE demand

    Queen’s University researcher Michael Greenspan safely improves the way patients and health care workers connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The patient call button is a piece of equipment that is taken for granted in most hospitals. In fact, the technology behind it hasn’t been updated in decades.

    But now, Queen’s researcher Michael Greenspan, Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering,  is running a pilot project at Belleville General Hospital that aims to upgrade the  call button system with some modern technology.

     “Basically, there is a computer tablet in a patient’s room, and one outside of the room for a health care worker to use,” says Dr. Greenspan. “The patient and nurse can interact safely, and it saves the hospital staff from changing into and out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

    While certain patient interactions still require health care providers to be physically present in the room, many routine interactions, like ones that are currently handled through hourly or intentional rounding, can be done as effectively and more efficiently, through a face-to-face video call conversation.


    a modern call button system being piloted at Belleville General Hospital
    A modern patient call button that is being piloted at Belleville General Hospital 

    The COVID challenge

    One of the main challenges hospitals are facing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is a shortage of PPE, especially masks, N95 respirators, goggles, visors, and gowns.

    “Even though hospitals are re-using or extending the use of some of these PPE elements to conserve these limited products, PPE shortages remain prevalent across Canada and worldwide and these shortages are likely to be a concern for the foreseeable future,” says Dr. Greenspan. “Whereas other efforts have been oriented to increasing the supply of PPE, we’ve focused on the other side of the equation, ad are working towards decreasing the demand through the use of this interactive technology.”

    The research was initially funded through the Ingenuity Labs Research Opportunities Seed Fund, and then through the Ontario Centres of Excellence VIP project, which included a contribution from HHAngus and Associates Ltd, an engineering firm with a focus on health care facilities. The project involves collaborators  Dr. Jennifer Medves (School of Nursing), Dr. Dick  Zoutman (Medicine), as well as colleagues from Queen’s Ingenuity Labs. Several other students and recent Queen’s graduates are also working on the project, including an ECE MEng recent graduate, software developer and team lead Ankit Dhanda.

    Beyond the pandemic

    Officials at Belleville General Hospital are keeping the system in place for now. Dr. Greenspan says the researchers have developed a new version, with a number of additional and advanced features based on the feedback that they have received, and are on track to install this new version in the spring.

    Plans to evolve the patient call button were well underway when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and, once it subsides, the research team is hoping to circle back to the original vision of re-engineering the call button system entirely. The original vision involved adding in a series of sensors to monitor the patient and their environment, and then processing the data with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning methods, in order to detect and predict unsafe events or conditions. The technology could one day provide a better way for health care workers to interact with and monitor patients

    “We hope to not only apply a different version to a hospital setting, but expand the system even further,” says Dr. Greenspan.  “The technology could be used in the Intensive Care Unit of hospitals, because the patients there are especially vulnerable and need to be protected from infection,” says Dr. Greenspan. “Overall, this technology upgrade  could lead to better efficiencies, better health outcomes, and higher patient and health care worker satisfaction.”



    Canada Foundation for Innovation funds Queen’s researchers in their pursuits of exploration and discovery

    More than $10 million has been secured by Queen’s researchers for infrastructure that will help to combat climate change, treat cancer, and understand the fabric of the universe.

    The federal government is continuing its investment in Canada’s research infrastructure with the announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of $518 million in support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Innovation Fund. Two projects led by Queen’s researchers have received close to $10 million to significantly advance their research. Queen’s is also a collaborator on a third project, led by Carleton University.

    CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 competition was designed to provide strategic investments in research infrastructure, from supporting fundamental research to technology development. With a look towards a post-pandemic future, the federal government through the CFI was focused on supporting research that would build a healthier, greener, and more economically robust society while continuing to pursue exploration and discovery.

    “This support will allow Queen’s to build on exceptional international strengths and have a direct impact on how we live and understand the world around us," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice Principal (Research). “Thank you to the Government of Canada for investing in the tools that advance research.”

    ExCELLirate Canada

    The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) and Queen’s researcher Annette Hay (Medicine) and Jonathan Bramson, of McMaster University, have received CFI support of more than $5 million for their project to develop a national cellular therapy translational research platform, the first of its kind globally. ExCELLirate Canada: Expanding CELL-based Immunotherapy Research Acceleration for Translation and Evaluation is a collaboration between Queen’s, McMaster University, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, Université de Montréal, and Canadian Blood Services. CFI funds will support research activities from novel cell therapy development to point-of-care cell manufacturing and multi-centre clinical trial testing for cancer treatment. This project aims to develop cell therapies as safe and viable treatment options through identifying biological mechanisms affecting safety and designing cost-effective methods for the harvest, expansion, manipulation, purification, and delivery of the cells.

    [Photo of an immunofluorescence stain]
    Art of Research PhotoImmunofluorescence Stain by Shakeel Virk and Lee Boudreau, CCTG Tissue Bank


    Queen’s civil engineering researchers Andy Take, Canada Research Chair in Geotechnical Engineering, and Ian Moore, Canada Research Chair in Infrastructure Engineering, are aiming to improve the future resiliency of Canada’s civil engineering infrastructure in the face of climate change with their project CASTLE. The Climate Adaptive infraStructure Testing and Longevity Evaluation (CASTLE) Innovation Cluster is a collaboration between Queen’s and the Royal Military College of Canada, which received close to $4.5 million in funding from CFI. As Canada’s landmass spans diverse geographic regions, current and future infrastructure must be made resilient against the unique impacts of climate change affecting remote northern regions to southern urban centres. The objectives for CASTLE are to improve storage of mine waste, ensure safety and improve resilience of transportation infrastructure, such as roads, railways, and pipes, and coastal defense structures, as well as ports and harbours, against the direct and triggered geotechnical hazards of climate change.

    [Photo of a light tunnel]
    Art of Research PhotoA New Light by Robert Cichocki, GeoEngineering Lab

    Dark Matter Detector

    In furthering Canada’s leadership in the field of dark matter, Queen’s is a collaborator on a project to develop the next generation liquid argon dark matter detector and an underground argon storage facility at SNOLAB. Understanding the nature of dark matter, which makes up 85 per cent of the universe, is one of science’s unsolved mysteries. This project will include upgrades to the DEAP-3600 experiment, contributions to the Darkside-20k experiment, and the development of the ultimate ARGO detector at SNOLAB. By enabling further scientific discovery at SNOLAB, the location where Queen’s researcher Arthur McDonald conducted his Nobel Prize winning research, this project has the potential to develop technical and commercial innovations in digital light sensors and offer training opportunities to junior researchers and students.

    For more information on projects funded through the Innovation Fund 2020, visit the CFI website

    IGnite Virtual set for March 4

    The IGnite series, hosted by the McDonald Institute and Queen’s University Relations, is returning virtually for 2021. The free online forum showcases stories of discovery from researchers at Queen’s University. Speaker presentations are engaging and geared toward a wide variety of audiences, making IGnite accessible for anyone who is interested in attending.  

    The next installment, IGnite Virtual, will be held on Thursday, March 4, 7-8:45 pm on YouTube. Panelists include astroparticle physicist Nahee Park (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) and her former student, Emma Ellingwood, who will discuss their work on high energy cosmic accelerators. Biomechanical engineers Kevin Deluzio (also Dean of the Engineering and Applied Science) and Elise Laende, postdoctoral fellow with Mechanical and Materials Engineering, will share their research on motion capture and understanding how people move through time and space. The event will feature behind-the-scenes science tours and an audience question and answer period.

    IGnite Virtual is open to all and no registration is required to view the YouTube livestream

    To learn more, visit the McDonald Institute website.

    [Promotional Graphic: IGnite Virtual - March 4 7 - 8:45 PM EST Streamed on YouTube]


    Health unit using Queen’s-founded staffing software for COVID-19 immunization program

    Mesh AI, a cloud-based human resource management software for the healthcare industry, is being used to handle increased scheduling needs of pandemic response.

    Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health is utilizing a scheduling program, developed by a Queen's-based startup, to help organize its mass immunization effort for COVID-19.

    Mesh AI user interface
    Mesh AI, a cloud-based human resource management software for the healthcare industry, removes the need to manually manage staff work schedules. The program automates the process with inputs that balance the needs of both employers and staff members.

    Tasked with immunizing residents throughout its coverage area, KFL&A Public Health faces an immense and complex amount of scheduling involving staff, including full-time, part-time, contract, unionized and non-unionized. To meet the increased needs KFL&A Public Health is using Mesh AI, a cloud-based human resource management software for the healthcare industry that removes the need to manually manage staff work schedules. The business venture, led by Queen’s Engineering Associate Dean (Corporate Relations) and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Shahram Yousefi, offered its software free and with no obligation to healthcare administrators in support of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic back in March of 2020 at the initial peak of the pandemic in North America. Earlier this year, Mesh AI extended its free access offer to new qualifying immunization teams.

    The software is currently being used in immunization programs, pandemic surge planning, and hospital as well as medical office staff scheduling in Canada, the United States, and Australia.

    Before the pandemic, normal operations for KFL&A Public Health were primarily Monday to Friday 8:30 am-4:30 pm and scheduling was relatively stable, explains Katie Chan, Human Resources Officer for KFLA Public Health. But with the arrival of COVID-19 it became clear that the health unit needed a more sophisticated scheduling system to handle the new requirements.

    “Prior to the introduction of Mesh AI scheduling for our organization was a difficult to say the least,” Chan says. “Schedules were being populated manually on Excel and PDF schedules were posted for staff. As you can imagine the upkeep of changes and updates was quite onerous. Mesh AI has provided a seamless system to provide real time data for management and staff.”

    Importantly, Chan adds, Mesh AI is user-friendly and public health staff were able to quickly transition into the new system when it was introduced.

    “Since then, we have been using Mesh AI for all COVID response units as well as for the on-call schedule for our management team,” she says. “With the upcoming complexity of scheduling the mass immunization clinics given different partners and groups we are grateful to be have access to this new digital tool.”

    Introducing new software in healthcare can often take six to 18 months, or more. With a product line designed for COVID-19 immunization staffing, Mesh AI can launch the product for a client in less than two weeks.

    “When we launch, the manager presses a button and everybody gets invited to the platform,” Dr. Yousefi explains. “When they come to the platform, they can just input their preferences. This is unique. We allow people to tell the system what they need. If you’re a nurse who is caring for three children, you have specific work-life balance needs. You can put all of that into the system. You might prefer to not have early morning assignments, for example, as you need to help your kids before you can start working. And a single guy who lives as a nurse in downtown Toronto has different needs. So they all log in, put in their requirements, vacation days, off times, on times, and, this is unique to Mesh AI, their preferences. Anything they want. There's no limit. Alternatively, when speed matters, Mesh AI can be launched without the need to on-board all staff. Admins and schedulers, even a single user, can reap the majority of our automation benefits by themselves.”

    Once managers receive and approve staffing requests and preferences by their providers or directly add them to Mesh AI themselves, the schedules can be automatically generated. When changes and shift reassignments are required, Mesh AI’s intelligent engine recommends the next best options reducing healthcare administrative times drastically.

    Learn more about Mesh AI and MESH Scheduling Inc. at MeshAI.io.

    With files from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

    How the ‘robot revolution’ is changing jobs and businesses in Canada

    The future of automated labour may not spell the end of human employment. (Shutterstock)

    In 2017, I returned to Canada from Sweden, where I had spent a year working on automation in mining. Shortly after my return, the New York Times published a piece called, “The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine,” about Sweden’s embrace of automation while limiting human costs.

    Although Swedes are apparently optimistic about their future alongside robots, other countries aren’t as hopeful. One widely cited study estimates that 47 per cent of jobs in the United States are at risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence.

    Whether we like it or not, the robot era is already upon us. The question is: Is the Canadian economy poised to flourish or flounder in a world where robots take over the tasks we don’t want to do ourselves? The answer may surprise you.

    Robots are everywhere

    Modern-day robots are how artificial intelligence (AI) physically interacts with us, and the world around us. Although some robots resemble humans, most do not and are instead specifically designed to autonomously carry out complex tasks.

    Over the last few decades, robots have rapidly grown from specialized devices developed for select industry applications to household items. You can buy a robot to vacuum your floors, cut your grass and keep your home secure. Kids play with educational robots at school, where they learn to code, and compete in robot design teams that culminate in exciting international competitions.

    Robots are also appearing in our hospitals, promising to help us fight the COVID-19 pandemic and performing other health-care tasks in safer and more efficient ways.


    The media is abuzz with stories about the latest technical claims, rumours and speculations about the secret developments of major international corporations, including Waymo, Tesla, Apple, Volvo and GM.

    And NASA just landed the Perseverance rover on Mars, with an autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity attached to its belly.

    Oh, and there are the dancing robots too, of course.

    Robots behind the scenes

    I have been working on robotics and autonomous vehicles technology in mining since the late 1990s. As such, I have been part of an industry that is undergoing a sea change, with fully autonomous machines steadily replacing workers in dark, dirty and dangerous scenarios.

    Autonomous underground mining vehicle
    A fully autonomous underground load-haul-dump vehicle developed for Swedish mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc AB and in partnership with Canadian robotics firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates. (Joshua Marshall), Author provided

    This robot revolution is happening behind the scenes in other industries too. Robots fill Amazon orders, manufacture stuff in factories, plant and pick crops, assist on construction sites, and the list goes on.

    In fact, robots even build other robots. Will we soon run out of jobs for people?

    Robots in Canada

    There are many who paint a bleak picture of the future, where robots and AI take away all the “good jobs.” Although I fully acknowledge that we must be mindful of possible inequalities and unintended outcomes that might arise as a result of new technologies, I contend that Canadians have the potential to thrive.

    But to make it happen, my colleagues and I agree that our country needs a “robotics strategy.”

    In 2017, Canada launched the world’s first national AI strategy. Called the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy and costing $125 million, the strategy aims to strengthen Canada’s leadership in AI by funding institutes, universities and hospitals to meet key objectives.

    In its 2020 list of future jobs, the World Economic Forum listed “robotics engineers” as No. 10, in close company with “AI and machine learning specialists.” In Canada, I see huge potential for our robotics industry, with companies such as Clearpath Robotics, OTTO Motors, Kinova, Robotiq and Titan Medical already world leaders in the design and manufacture of robots for purposes ranging from materials handling to surgery.

    Beyond building robots, Canada’s most significant opportunities may lie in the increased adoption of robots into economically important industry sectors, including mining, agriculture, manufacturing and transportation.

    And yet, Canada may be the only G7 country without a robotics strategy.

    The robot revelation

    As it turns out, there is hope. According to a November 2020 report from Statistics Canada, Canadian firms that employed robots have also hired more human workers, contrary to what you may instinctively believe. In fact, they hired 15 per cent more workers!

    However, this does not mean that we can all sit back and relax. Along with the increased economic activity that robots bring to businesses comes a shift in the workforce from “workers spending less time performing routine, manual tasks, in favour of non-routine, cognitive tasks.

    students in a robotics lab
    Mobile robotics researchers from the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute at Queen’s University. (Heshan Fernando), Author provided

    The roles of education and research and development — such as new programs to train the next generation of robot-savvy Canadians and collaborative research clusters — are paramount. And they need to be combined with a national robotics strategy and a progressive socioeconomic system that supports a transitioning workforce to ensure the success, well-being and happiness of Canadians, alongside our robot friends.The Conversation


    Joshua A. Marshall is as Associate Professor of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering at Queen's UniversityHe currently serves as Interim Director at the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute at Queen's University and is a founding member of the NSERC Canadian Robotics Network (NCRN). 

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

    Partnering with industry to advance technological innovation

    Over $6 million has been awarded to Queen’s researchers through NSERC’s Alliance grants to collaborate with industry partners in areas such as computing, wireless communications, and nuclear power.

    The Government of Canada recently announced its investment of $118 million in funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) inaugural Alliance grants program. More than $6 million was secured by 12 Queen’s researchers, with four projects awarded more than $1 million each. Of the 20 projects that received more than $1 million, Queen’s and the University of Calgary tied for attracting the largest individual investments.

    The Alliance grants program was established in 2019 to provide resources to support greater collaboration in research and development between researchers and partner organizations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. The goal is to develop collaborative teams with different skills and perspectives to generate new knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering and accelerate the real-world application of research results.

    “My congratulations to our researchers and industry partners on their extraordinary success in the new Alliance program,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice Principal (Research). “Through their work, we will advance knowledge in fields critical to the prosperity and economic growth of Canadians.”

    The four Queen’s projects that received more than $1 million in funding are:

    Edge Computing

    [Group photo with a large cheque]
    Researchers Hossam Hassanein and Sameh Sorour (Computing) with partners from Kings Distributed Systems, including President Dan Desjardins (PhD'15). 

    Queen’s researcher Hossam Hassanein, Director of the School of Computing, has received $1.2 million to develop “A Framework for Democratized Edge Computing and Intelligence” with industry partner and Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation collaborator, Kings Distributed Systems (KDS). Edge computing is a distributed, open IT architecture that has significant impact on user quality of service and will likely be a necessary component of all digital business by as early as 2022. This project will focus on creating distributed edge computing clusters that will make this technology accessible to all, reduce existing monopoly power of cloud service providers and network operators, and open an entirely new market for Canadian businesses and governments. Working with KDS, Dr. Hassanein also intends to train more than 20 highly qualified personnel to further advance edge computing technologies and applications.

    [Photo of Praveen Jain in the ePower centre]
    Praveen Jain, Canada Research Chair in Power Electronics

    Renewable Nano Power Grid

    A team of researchers led by Praveen Jain with Majid Pahlevani and Suzan Eren at the Queen’s Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER) received $1.2 million in funding to partner with Cistel Technology and EION Wireless to develop a “Renewable Nano Power Grid for Wireless Communications.” Modern communications networks employ wireless towers at remote locations where grid power may not be available. Dr. Jain and his team are venturing into the next-generation renewable nano energy grid that will provide “five nines” availability required in the communications networks.

    Nuclear Energy

    Queen’s researcher Suraj Persaud, UNENE Research Chair in Corrosion Control and Materials Performance, secured funding for two projects related to nuclear energy. The first is a partnership with Bruce Power, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Ontario Power Generation, and UNENE, with $1.4 million in support, to investigate “Corrosion Control and Materials Performance in Nuclear Power Systems.” In collaboration with the University of Toronto, Dr. Persaud will investigate metallic corrosion, in particular the combined effect of irradiation and corrosion on material performance in nuclear power plants and small modular reactors. Application of innovative microscopy methods will be a key component to identify the effects of stress and corrosion on materials degradation at the nanoscale. The team will leverage state-of-art research infrastructure, such as the proton accelerator and microscopy facilities, available at the Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM) in Toronto and the Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL) at Queen’s.

    [Photo of Suraj Persaud]
    Suraj Persaud, UNENE Research Chair in Corrosion Control and Materials Performance

    Dr. Persaud’s second project applies the same focus on nanoscale corrosion and materials degradation to the safe disposal of nuclear waste, an often-cited drawback of nuclear energy. With $1.03 million in funding, Dr. Persaud has partnered with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to collaborate on the “Advanced Characterization and Modelling of Degradation in Nuclear Waste Canister Materials” with an interdisciplinary scientific approach and a diverse team of senior and early-stage researchers. NWMO is the organization mandated to develop a plan for disposal of spent fuel, which is currently focused on design and commission of the deep geological repository (DGR) where spent nuclear fuel is stored in a multi-barrier system. Dr. Persaud and his team will work with NWMO scientists to employ novel microscopy, experimental and modelling methods, and state-of-the-art facilities to study micro-to-atomic scale interactions and the performance of materials proposed for DGR application with the ultimate goal of ensuring Canada’s safe and responsible disposal of nuclear waste.

    Nine other projects were funded through the program, including:

    Researcher Partner(s) Project Title Amount
    Kevin Mumford (Civil Engineering) McMillan-McGee Enhanced in situ thermal treatment of soil and groundwater: high temperature treatment and combined remedies $320,000
    Mark Daymond, Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Materials and Mechanics of Materials  Kinectrics Mechanistic understanding of hydrided region overload cracking $292,000
    Yan-Fei Liu (Electrical and Computer Engineering)  GaNPower International, Magna International Technology development for high efficiency high power density EV DC – DC converter $259,190
    Victoria Friesen (Biology) African Lion Safari, Wildlife Preservation Canada Population management and recovery of the endangered loggerhead shrike $118,632
    Carlos Saavedra (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Guildline Instruments Broadband gallium nitride power amplifier for microwave calibration instrumentation $111,000
    Laurent Karim Béland (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Development of artificial neural networks to analyze micrographs of zirconium-based alloys and hydrides for nuclear power applications $90,000
    Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering) Correctional Service of Canada, Spectra Plasmonics A portable illicit drug detection device for Correctional Service Canada $60,000
    Kimberley Mcauley (Chemical Engineering) National Research Council of Canada, Natural Resources Canada Variability and uncertainty analysis of wood waste as a feedstock for gasification $40,000
    Julian Ortiz (Mining; Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) ArcelorMittal Mining Canada G.P. Geometallurgical modeling of mining complexes: testing causal hypothesis to improve plant performance $40,000

    For more information about the Alliance program, visit the NSERC website.

    Share your passion for International Day of Women and Girls in Science

    On Feb. 11, Queen’s will recognize the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science by encouraging the campus community to share their passion for STEM by sharing their research contributions on Twitter and tagging @queensuResearch.

    This year marks the sixth anniversary of the international recognition day, which promotes full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. According to UNESCO’s Science Report, only 33 per cent of researchers globally are women. International Day of Women and Girls in Science is meant to celebrate and inspire present and future women in STEM disciplines.

    Share your content and follow @queensuResearch as we retweet and highlight some of our Queen’s researchers and their contributions to groundbreaking STEM research.

    [International Day of Women and Girls in Science]

    Introducing the first Mitchell Professors

    Mitchell Professors
    Thanks to a transformational gift from philanthropist and Queen’s alumnus Bruce Mitchell (Sc’68, DSc'20) the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science has five new professorships in the research areas artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, human-machine collaboration research, and the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute. The recipients are, clockwise from top left: Ali Etemad, Amy Wu, Matthew Robertson, Joshua Woods and Xiaodan Zhu.

    A transformational gift from philanthropist and Queen’s alumnus Bruce Mitchell (Sc’68, DSc'20) has enabled the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science to expand its investment in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, human-machine collaboration research, and the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute. The gift has resulted in the installation of five professorships across three departments.

    “Society and technology evolve as codependent systems,” says Josh Marshall, Interim Director at Ingenuity Labs. “This gift is very meaningful for us, allowing us to establish areas of research expertise that explore vital connections between people and technology. Dr. Mitchell’s contributions will ultimately improve human lives through fields including healthcare, intelligent infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and even transportation.”

    This major gift, originally announced in 2017, has supported the building of Mitchell Hall and the creation of the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, both of which opened in 2019. It also provides funding for an endowed Chair which will be held by an internationally-recognized researcher in the fields of intelligent systems and/or applied artificial intelligence.

    The gift advances not only research in advanced technologies – such as in AI and robotics – but in how humans work together with these innovations for the betterment of society. As such, each of the Mitchel Professorships are affiliated with the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute, the interdisciplinary initiative at Queen’s focused on combining AI, robotics, and human-machine collaboration to create future intelligent systems and robotic machines that enhance human productivity, safety, performance, and quality of life across a number of modern applications. Although housed within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Ingenuity Labs boasts membership from multiple faculties.

    Strategically selected junior faculty members in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science will receive salary support, research stipends and infrastructure funds. The five Mitchell Professors began their five-year terms in January 2021.


    Amy R. Wu is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, where she is the head of the Biomechanics x Robotics Laboratory (BxRL). Her research interests are at the intersection of human biomechanics and robotics with the aim of augmenting human mobility. She is interested in utilizing a first-principles approach to understand the mechanics and energetics of human movement and to apply those principles to robots.

    Ali Etemad is an assistant professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering where he leads the Ambient Intelligence and Interactive Machines (Aiim) lab. His main area of research is machine learning and deep learning focused on human-centered applications with wearables, smart devices, and smart environments.

    Matthew Robertson is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. Active in the fields of bioinspired, soft, and multi-material robotic systems design, his work is dedicated to redefining the boundaries of performance, morphology, and applications of robots that can operate in more complex and challenging real world environments by utilizing advanced manufacturing, embedded control, and holistic system design techniques.

    Joshua Woods is an assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Civil Engineering. His research can be broadly categorized into three primary areas of specialization: the use of high-performance materials and structural systems for seismic resilience; large-scale experimental testing and the development of advance test methods (e.g. hybrid simulation) for full-scale civil structures; and the application of advanced sensors for structural monitoring and condition assessment of structures.

    Xiaodan Zhu is an assistant professor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a faculty affiliate at the Vector Institute. His research field is in machine learning, natural language processing, and AI.

    “Each of our Mitchell Professors is a global leader in their field,” says Kevin Deluzio, Dean of Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. “The creation of the Mitchell Professorships accelerates Queen’s status as a driving force in research in intelligent systems engineering and applied AI. We could not be prouder of each of these researchers, and are grateful to Dr. Mitchell for his support in establishing these professorships and helping us recognize excellence within our faculty while supporting vital work and future discoveries.”

    Research support is given to each Mitchell Professor in the form of a research stipend and access to infrastructure funding. Stipend funding can be used, for instance, for student salaries and for conducting research within Ingenuity Labs, or for travel to meet industrial partners or field research. The aim is to be results-oriented and liberal in the potential use of the funds, with the goal of maximizing impact in attracting future funding to the Institute and Queen’s.

    This article was first published by the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.


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