Three things you didn’t know you could work on in E-town

By Caitlin Crawshaw

If you live, work, or study in Edmonton, you’ve probably encountered plenty of hidden gems — like the famed Duchess bakery, the dizzying Snow Valley Aerial Park, or the awe-inspiring Keillor Point lookout (formerly ‘The End of the World’). But if you’re a student looking to launch a tech career in E-town, the city’s got plenty of other secrets to uncover.

In recent years, Edmonton’s tech sector has expanded significantly, and the city is now home to about 394 tech companies. Most are headquartered downtown and quietly pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence (especially machine learning), biotechnology, digital technology, and many other fields. Here are some of the city's most surprising projects, industries, and companies.

Health technology

Dornoosh Zonoonbi, Co-Founder and CEO at Medo.ai

Dornoosh Zonoonbi, Co-Founder and CEO at Medo.ai

With society’s health needs becoming more complex and health-care costs rising, technology could hold the key to better and more efficient care. Edmonton has a burgeoning biotechnology industry, including plenty of startups focused on medical technologies. Medo.ai, for instance, is making the power of medical imaging, using ultrasound, accessible to everyone. Using artificial intelligence, 3D technologies and cloud computing, Medo radically simplifies the acquisition and analysis of ultrasound images, removing the need for highly trained experts.

The web application, which augments current ultrasound technology, integrates a series of scans from different angles into a 3-D model. Then, using machine learning algorithms, the model is compared against a large database of other scans to suggest a diagnosis. The company’s first product was designed to more efficiently diagnose hip dysplasia in infants, but has plenty of other applications since ultrasound technology is used to detect a plethora of health issues.

David Chang, CEO at Metabolomic Technologies Inc.

David Chang, CEO at Metabolomic Technologies Inc.

This application of technology paves the way for the ultrasound to become the stethoscope of the 21st century.

Metabolomic Technologies (MTI) is another rising star in the biotech scene. This University of Alberta spin-off uses the new science of metabolomics to conduct non-invasive diagnostics. Its first product, PolypDx, is a urine-based test that can detect the adenomatous polyps that predict colorectal cancer more efficiently than conventional methods.


Home automation

While a growing number of us have thermostats and doorbell cameras connected to our smartphones, few of us have fully automated homes due to the high cost of installation. Edmonton startup Levven has come up with an elegant solution in the form of wireless switching, which eliminates wiring between the switch and power control. Levven’s system relies on controls installed within junction boxes (the box your light fixture attaches to) that can be manipulated by wireless switches using radio-frequency technology (the same tech your car’s keychain fob uses). This saves a ton of labour and material costs, and speeds up installation.

To date, the company has installed its systems in about 1,200 new builds in Alberta and the U.S. and plans to expand throughout North America pending changes to electrical code interpretations. Last year, the company successfully lobbied to have Alberta reinterpret its code to allow the technology.

Machine learning

Edmonton has a well-established artificial intelligence ecosystem. In 2002, UAlberta established the research group along with the Government of Alberta, that would eventually become the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) and has been one of the top AI universities in Canada for 20 years.

Cam Linke, Amii Board of Director

Cam Linke, Amii Board of Director

In recent years, Edmonton has become home to more companies working in AI, particularly in the area of machine learning, which aims to give systems the ability to learn and improve from experience. One of the best-known entities is DeepMind, the UK-based company and Google-collaborator that set up an office in Edmonton in 2017. The company has had ties to UAlberta for many years: researcher Dr. Rich Sutton was its first scientific advisor in 2010 and since then, the company has hired about a dozen UAlberta graduates. Sutton now heads DeepMind Alberta alongside colleagues Michael Bowling and Patrick Pilarski.

Since 2014, DeepMind has been collaborating with Google, using its technologies to improve the tech behemoth’s products and systems. The company’s other work has yielded all kinds of successes; its programs have successfully diagnosed eye diseases as accurately as doctors, reduced the energy used to keep data centres cool by 30 per cent, and predicted the complex 3-D shapes of proteins, for instance.

Edmonton is also home to machine learning startups like AltaML, which uses machine learning technologies to solve business problems in oil and gas, healthcare, and construction, and EZOPS, which applies machine learning and AI to the needs of the financial services industry.