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Imagine a world in which a device would notify you if you were about to suffer a sunburn.

That is just one of the 20 Canadian innovations being showcased in the 2018 Sci Innovation Competition at the MaRS Discovery District Saturday.

This is the second year the competition, also known as the “Global Olympics of Innovation,” will be taking place in Toronto. It was established by the municipality of Shenzhen and the People’s Republic of China in association with the City of Toronto.

This year there were 208 submissions, which were narrowed down to 20 by a panel of 27 judges comprised of business leaders, scientists, academics and renowned experts.

Ten winners will head to Shenzhen to participate in the industry final in April.

Organizer Janet Qi said $4-billion will be invested in the winning projects. Second and third-place prizes will also be awarded.

The competition features projects from five industries – IT, biotechnology and life sciences, electronic science and technology, advanced manufacturing and material and energy.

Here are four of the 20 finalists:


In minimally invasive surgery, surgeons operate with very long instruments through very small holes in the body. “They’ve lost that sense of touch that they used to have, and our technology gives that back to them,” said founder Robert Brooks. Medical error is currently the third-leading cause of death in the United States, with an estimated 12 per cent of the errors due to improper force. The team behind ForceFilm is trying to change that by improving surgical precision through virtual technology. ForceFilm is a thin add-on that can be laminated onto any surgical instrument to provide a virtual sense of touch. The technology works by measuring minute deflections in the metal to figure out exactly how much pressure is being applied to the tip of the instrument. “What I found was rather than making more and more complicated instruments to address smaller and smaller patient populations, all we needed to do was make the tools that we already had in minimally invasive surgery more widely applicable and easier to use,” Mr. Brooks said. ForceFilm is currently seeking approval by Health Canada.

Sapling Robotics Beach Cleaning Rover

A group of engineers from the University of Toronto and the University of Buffalo are developing an autonomous, zero-emission, electric beach-cleaning robot to replace the diesel trackers currently used in beach cleanings. The rover, which the group is developing in a garage, uses self-driving technology and machine vision to operate unsupervised alongside beachgoers, any time of day or night. The team’s goal is to eliminate the harmful carbon emissions, loud noises and terrible smells associated with industrial beach cleaning, says co-founder Ben Gigone. Mr. Gigone says his work was inspired by the Versova Beach cleanup project in India, in which a local attorney was joined by 12,000 volunteers who managed to collect more than five million kilograms of trash in two years. But within a few weeks, the beach was polluted again. “We kind of looked at this project and thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to handle this.’ And when we looked into the market to see what beach cleaners were currently being used, we found very labour-intensive, environmentally harmful, inefficient solutions,” Mr. Gigone said. The team is developing a prototype and looking for a pilot program partner so they can demonstrate it to a hotel brand or local municipality over the summer.

Qsun Sun Safety Solution

Half of North American adults suffered a sunburn last year, but researchers may have come up with a fix. Qsun is an AI-powered wearable and companion app that provides a solution to sun damage. The device checks for UV rays and notifies users when they’re about to get a burn by monitoring and analyzing their exposure to sun in real time. The algorithm works by combining the user’s current sun exposure with their skin type, environmental situation and sun safety habits. The device also provides users with tailored recommendations to manage their vitamin D levels by telling them how much they’ve produced from the sun and how much they need from dietary sources. Co-founder Neda Ghazi says she and her partner came up with the idea when they were doing their postdoctoral research on the climate. They came across the dangerous effects of UV rays on human life when they discovered that one in five Americans and one in seven Canadians develop skin cancer during their lifetime, mainly due to overexposure to UV rays. Ms. Ghazi says the team is planning to launch a second-generation device based on the feedback from 25,000 users this summer.

GoFind AI

See, snap, shop – a California-based startup is building artificial intelligence for shopping. GoFind AI is an instant fashion discovery app that lets people upload images or screenshots to find out where to buy the products they are looking for. The search engine is driven by a learning-trained machine that recognizes textures, colours and shapes and gives users access to 100 million products from more than 1,000 online shops. Along with locating the exact product, the app also brings up similar items at varying price points. Founder Manindra Majumdar says he first noticed the gap between sellers and buyers in his first business, exporting teas online. Mr. Majumdar says he found it was very difficult for marketers to sell niche products online, and even harder for customers to find them, unless they were being sold on the fence through Amazon. “Everything else is kind of hidden, so with our engine, we want to bring it all up front,” he said. His team is working on expanding the search engine to include furniture, houses and cars.

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