Written by Andrew Seale
If you compress the confluence of the industrial internet of things, smart cities, and artificial intelligence into a neat package, it’ll encapsulate the life of Waterloo’s Miovision. While the world was waking up to urban innovation, the company was quietly labouring away in the background.
“We've been in the space doing what we do for a long time,” says Kurtis McBride, co-founder and CEO of the 13-year-old smart intersection company. “It’s like the world kind of came around to how we were thinking about things.”
And it did. Smarter, more innovative cities have become a sexy topic with municipalities starting to ask how big data and artificial intelligence can be used to make the movement of people more efficient and sustainable. McBride was there at the sunrise, a systems engineering student at the University of Waterloo sitting at intersections counting cars and knowing there had to be a better way.
That better way was Scout, a video-based system that counts traffic at intersections. In 2006, McBride entered the newly launched Accelerator Centre in Waterloo alongside Tony Brijpaul and Kevin Madill. Within a few years, they’d graduate the AC, the first startup to do so, and at a time when Kitchener-Waterloo’s tech scene was hitting its stride.
Today, the company has around 150 employees and a second office in Germany. Its suite of artificial intelligence-enabled software like DataLink and TrafficLink hardware is used in over 17,000 municipalities around the globe, measuring traffic flow and allowing adjustments to signals. The emergence of open data policies – like the one announced by Toronto this year – bodes well for Miovision which sees efficiency through open data architecture as the way forward.
“I think that's the next wave of change in mindset,” says McBride. “As we reinvent the built-form of the city, it will be built up around an open architecture.”
Both openness and collaboration have become a frame of reference for everything Miovision has done over the past 13 years but few things are more emblematic of that than Catalyst137, the company’s recently opened office and the epicentre of hardware acceleration in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Hardware companies – at least half of the companies in Waterloo – tended to get relegated to the north end of Waterloo or the south end of Kitchener,” says McBride “We were kind of missing out on the revitalization of the core.”
Miovision wanted to be right in the heart of the action and what better way to do so than to build the community around itself? With Catalyst137, Miovision has created the largest IoT campus in the world, a 475,000-square-foot warehouse filled with hardware startups of all kinds: IoT, wearables, nanotech, and the types of services, legal, patent, amenities, everything they could possibly care about or need. “And then design the footprint of the place so you could roll a transport truck up to the back of your unit to ship things.”
While Catalyst137 feels like a self-contained IoT hub, it’d be naive to think that a startup can grow in a vacuum. McBride says the relationship between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo is critical, giving entrepreneurs in both cities access to talent and capital. But it could be done more efficiently along the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, admits McBride.
“The biggest challenge I would say that we have to overcome to truly link the two centres is high-speed transportation options,” he says. “Too often it’s US venture capitalists that are coming up here getting the deals… I’d like to think if it took 20 minutes to get to Waterloo from Union Station more Bay Street bankers would come this way.”
In the meantime, Miovision continues to lead cities into the future with its technology. When asked about being the big player now surrounded by tiny teams of entrepreneurial young upstarts looking to make their mark, McBride is hesitant.
“I wouldn't want to be on the record saying that we’re not a startup anymore,” he says. “I'll call myself a startup as long as they'll let me.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)