SFU to advance agritech, wearables sectors with $11.8M in federal research funding

April 01, 2022

Advances in technology that will help grow B.C.’s agriculture sector and produce ‘wearable’ healthcare solutions will be possible through federal funding for two new Simon Fraser University initiatives.

SFU is receiving $10 million from Pacific Economic Development Canada (PacifiCan) for its AGtech Innovation Sandbox (AGIS), which will support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to scale-up and commercialize agritech in B.C.

A further $1.8 million will go to WearTech Labs, SFU’s new core facility in Surrey that develops, tests and commercializes wearable technologies designed to improve quality of life. A pair of new research labs at the facility will also be created.

The AGIS, led by SFU in collaboration with its academic partners, including the University of the Fraser Valley and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, has already secured strong industry participation from at least 30 SMEs throughout the province. It will provide training programs to help develop local talent and address labour gaps in B.C.’s agriculture sector.

“AGIS brings together agri-food producers, technology companies, municipalities, Indigenous communities, non-for-profit organizations and post-secondary education institutions to enhance agriculture sustainability and resiliency in our province,” says SFU professor Sylvain Moreno, AGIS’s scientific director. 

“By supporting the agritech innovation pathway, AGIS aims to build partnerships that enable learning, innovation and cooperation, while empowering B.C.’s agriculture industry to adapt and thrive in the face of climate change.”

AGIS is expected to create more than 300 new jobs, bring at least 20 technologies to market and generate $13 million in business sales growth by 2026.

WearTech Labs scientific co-director Edward Park

WearTech Labs works with researchers and industry to develop wearable technology that improves our lives—for example, through improvements to vital sign alerts for healthy babies in developing countries, increasing business productivity through redesigned and better used workspaces, and creating locators for firefighters attending fires in complex indoor settings.

Researchers are developing hardware technologies, new sensing modalities and algorithms to quantify our lives. “We’re creating new analytical tools to interpret this wealth of data, and new control strategies to change how we live our lives—all perpetually powered by our own physiology,” says SFU professor and WearTech Labs scientific co-director Max Donelan.

“Our new labs will simulate a wide-range of environmental conditions experienced around the world. This will enable our academic and industrial partners to develop and test wearable devices that truly work for anyone no matter how they live their lives.”

The initiative is expected to create 40 new jobs and increase revenues by $25 million through this investment. The global market projections for the wearable technologies sector are expected to reach $150 billion by 2026.

SFU professor Edward Park, the lab’s other scientific co-director, says the timely funding will lead to “new health, fitness and fashion wearables that promote better-connected and healthier lifestyles, while also advancing the transformation of the wearable technology industry.”

Over the past decade, SFU has invested in core facilities that house and provide access to infrastructure shared across the whole SFU research community, and beyond.

“We are grateful for PacifiCan’s generous support as we continue to expand our capacity in research excellence to make a meaningful impact on the world through our innovations,” says Dugan O’Neil, SFU’s vice-president, research and international. “Initiatives like these illustrate how universities can work with industry to support the post-pandemic recovery.”

See the PacifiCan news release.