Innovation. It’s a word we’re hearing a lot these days when it comes to economy and industry. However, it’s no secret that innovation is not an easy task. Businesses can easily get bogged down in the day-to-day. Many big ideas never see the light of day because there is a lack of time or resources to explore them. On the flip side, researcher discoveries do not reach the marketplace because there is no business able to take that innovative work to buyers. It’s a conundrum holding back innovation here, and in many places around the world. However, the University of Regina is taking major action to break down barriers and bring industry and researchers together.
“Universities are catalysts for innovation,” says Dr. Christopher Yost, vice-president, research, at the University of Regina. “Our bedrock is curiosity and discovery and applying our discoveries for benefits in society and business. Now, it’s time to take those fundamental ideas to advance economic growth.” Yost leads the university’s research enterprise, working to build bridges between industry and researchers and exploring ideas that can one day be market ready.
Collaboration that works
The University of Regina’s Office of Research Partnerships and Innovation works with industry in several ways. Often, organizations can identify ideas worth pursuing, but do not have the capacity—in time, money, facilities, expertise or funding—to get them off the ground. This is where the University of Regina is ready to fill the gap. The research office can help businesses with ideas to define, test and refine those ideas and determine whether commercialization is possible. “We connect faculty, researchers and students who have the relevant knowledge and expertise that will benefit the company,” says Yost. “Everyone benefits from the collaboration. Our researchers get new partnerships and a chance to apply their skills, and businesses can use and take these new innovations to market.”
Dr. Jeff Keshen, University of Regina president and vice-chancellor, says there are brilliant people doing incredible work at the university. “In many cases, our researchers simply need to meet the right people and organizations that can help take their great ideas out into the world,” says Keshen.
Yost says his office supports those researchers, and helps their discoveries reach the people—entrepreneurs, investors, buyers—that see the economic value of the work.
Real world proof
Dr. Sandra Zilles is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Regina, and a Canada Research Chair in Computational Learning Theory. An expert in artificial intelligence (AI), Zilles’ work takes the theoretical fundamentals of AI and applies it in the real world. “AI is a massive field with many branches,” says Zilles. “Machine learning is one of those branches, where we teach machines a task to eventually make predictions or classifications of data, for example.”
Zilles has taken the concepts of machine learning to assist in health care here in Saskatchewan. She worked with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and Regina’s Pasqua Hospital on a project to help doctors treat prostate cancer patients. Patients are treated with brachytherapy, which requires careful placement of catheters. During the procedure, physicians must place the catheter properly, and determine placement through a series of images where the location of the catheter is marked manually by the doctor. “A doctor can spend up to 45 minutes marking each image,” says Zilles. “The question was, how can we use AI to reduce the time spent on image analysis?”
Together with a researcher at the Cancer Agency, Zilles and her research students used machine learning to teach a computer how to pre-label the images, and have the physician verify the work and check for errors. The time it takes for the procedure is reduced, leaving more time for the physician to focus on patient care. All thanks to a real-world application of AI.
The future is now
Yost sees how researchers like Zilles can help business and industry progress ideas or find good ideas and put them on the path to commercialization. He also notes how working with the university can reduce risks that can hold back innovation. “There are challenges for a business to come up with the money needed to test an idea that may not pay off,” he says. “However, working with us gives organizations access to funding that can de-risk projects and leverage money that wouldn’t otherwise be available.”
As technology continues to disrupt the world we live and do business in, there has never been a better time to think with innovation in mind. Whether it’s finally examining that idea that never seems to move forward or looking at what discoveries are ready for the market, the University of Regina is open for business.
“We’re stronger when we work together,” says Yost. “It’s a matter of bringing people together and moving forward in one direction. We’re here to do just that.”