The raising of the Costa Concordia in September—20 months after the cruise ship ran aground on a reef and flipped over off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio—was an engineering marvel that gripped spectators worldwide. But for Canada's 2G Robotics Inc., the event had added importance: As part of the salvaging effort, the firm provided laser scanning to get three-dimensional images of the ship's hull after it had been righted. In the process, it grabbed global exposure for a technology that has already found widespread use in everything from pipelines and aqueducts to offshore oil projects, dams and bridges.
The company was founded by Jason Gillham in 2007, when he was a graduate engineering student at the University of Waterloo with an interest in both infrastructure and the environment. By 2010, 2G had emerged from its research and development phase with its own software and technology for inspecting underwater environments. The units can spot cracks and other flaws at a level of detail superior to sonar—which means 2G can locate problems before they become environmental disasters.
Given the scope of aging infrastructure throughout most of the world, it's a nice niche to occupy. Gillham says detecting flaws in pipes and so on is a $2-billion industry right now, and it's set to double within five years, as we go deeper into the water in search of energy and other resources. His goal is to generate sales of $10 million in the near future, and expand the company's current roster of seven employees. "Over the longer term, the sky's the limit," he says, "given the breadth of the market that is emerging." Just don't expect future projects to be as high-profile as the Costa Concordia.