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Blackbird flies to higher altitudes with Up Start funding

The novel software and mapping method will yield both real-time and two dimensional flood models

As an environmental engineering undergraduate nearly a decade ago, Robert Chlumsky, PhD candidate in the Faculty of Engineering, forged a professional relationship with his professors Dr. James Craig and Dr. Bryan Tolson. Fostering that relationship and the research it produced resulted in the trio receiving funding for Blackbird, which is software and a new method for flood plain mapping that could have real-world impact on flood mitigation and response.

Blackbird, along with nine other research projects (listed below), secured $15,000 in funding through Up Start, a program created by Velocity and Waterloo Commercialization Office (WatCo) for student researchers, founders, and recent alumni who are transforming their research into commercial ventures. The program provides access to funding and collaboration with advisers at the two University of Waterloo departments. 

Dr. James Craig, Robert Chlumsky, Dr. Bryan Tolson (left to right)

Chlumsky alongside Tolson and Craig, professors in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, are developing the technology and the Up Start funding will facilitate research validation, potentially growing their team and building an online portal for the platform. 

Blackbird’s flood maps, unlike the ones currently in use today, will be both real-time and two-dimensional facilitating authorities’ effective emergency response to flood events. 

“If authorities can do a better job responding to and managing flood events as they occur, will be both real time and understand the potential impact in land development, it could lead to real reductions in cost and risk to life for individuals,” Chlumsky said.

Craig, who is also Canada Research Chair in Hydrologic Modelling and Analysis, said authorities are currently using out-dated information, in some cases developed decades ago. 

“A lot of maps being used were developed in the 70s and 80s, most of which are out of date simply because climate is changing and there’s changing frequency of large flow events that lead to flooding,” Craig said. “This is a critical problem for engineers who are trying to deal with any predictions about water flow and flooding.”

Chlumsky said while Blackbird’s technology will be applicable to conservation authorities, government and industry, the maps could eventually reach general consumers to give them a better understanding of their own flood risk when buying or assessing their property. 

Blackbird and the following nine teams are the first to work with Up Start and receive funding towards transforming their research into commercial ventures. 

  • Intelligent AI-driven software for anomaly detection in metal additive manufacturing industry demonstrator by Gijs van Houtum, PhD student, Additive Manufacturing, Faculty of Engineering and Mihaela Vlasea, Ph.D., Associate Research Director, Assistant Professor. They are developing a customer facing software solution that uses an adaptive machine learning (ML) model to visual image and model track objects with the ability to incorporate human feedback in real time. Currently they are working to support Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA) in Multi-scale Additive Manufacturing (MSAM). 
  • Aqua-Cell Energy, which is building saltwater batteries for commercial buildings, small industrial facilities, and remote communities to store solar power and save money by Keith Cleland, Faculty of Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Ellsworth Bell, Faculty of Engineering, Chemical Engineering. Aqua-Cell Energy was a Velocity $5K pitch competition winner in 2020, and went on to participate in Cornerstone, eventually winning the winter term 2021 Problem Pitch. 
  • Cortical Challenge and Recovery Test (CCaRT) by Mohammad Nazmus Sakib, MBBS MSc PhD, Faculty of Health, PostDoc and Peter Hall, Professor, School of Public Health Sciences. They are developing a next-generation cognitive assessment system involving transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and mobile neuroimaging. It enables the detection of cognitive brain disorders much earlier than self-indicated issues are investigated. 
  • ThermOcular by Paul Murphy, Professor; Graduate Officer, Optometry & Vision Science, BSc (Cardiff), MBA (South Wales), PhD (Glasgow Caledonian), PGCE (TLTM) Glasgow Caledonian), FCOptom, FAAO, FEAOO, FBCLA, Alexander Wong, Professor, Canada Research Chair in AI and Medical Imaging, Faculty of Engineering and Ehsan Zare Bidaki, Post Doc, Faculty of Science, Vision Science. ThermOcular is a system and method to for imaging, segmenting, temporal and spatial tracking, and analysis of visible and infrared images of the ocular surface and eye adnexa. A thermal and a visible camera synchronously records video files from the eye surface. It is the first system that can accurately extract corneal temperature information 
  • Microfluidic Viscometer for measuring microliter-volume liquid samples by Wasim Kapadia, Alumni, Faculty of Engineering, MASc, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering. The team’s Microfluidic Viscometer provides a disruptive microfluidic design and methodology that allows for the viscosity of small volumes of fluids (i.e., a few microliters) to be measured.  
  • Cauchy Analytics by James Lowman, PhD candidate, Faculty of Engineering, Kebert Joseph, non-University of Waterloo and Rakshit Shetty, non-University of Waterloo. Their non-invasive ultrasound coupled with robotics and machine learning continuously measures a patient’s blood flow directly inside the heart. It is designed as an ICU diagnostic tool that is placed on the patient at intake and provides comprehensive information to doctors and nurses continuously until discharged. Cauchy Analytics won the Velocity $5K pitch competition in spring 2022. 
  • AM Ultrasonics by Alejandro (Alex) Martinez, PhD, Faculty of Engineering, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering. The team is developing novel material conveyor system using an ultrasound array, that can be used instead of the nozzles typically used in metal directed energy deposition 3d printers. Lower cost and more efficient for companies. The technology allows for higher speed and quality output and simplification.  
  • Mechano-metamaterial spinal implants by Jonah Leinwand, Faculty of Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Stewart McLachlin, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Engineering. Their artificial disc replacement using mechano-metamaterials offers customization, support and mobility. Mechano-metamaterial spinal implant is a single part movement which means no wear and sharing of particles. The design allows for Polymer overprinting. 
  • Coastal Carbon by Thomas Storwick, Masters, Faculty of Engineering, MASc in Chemical Engineering (Nanotechnology) and Kelly Zheng, Faculty of Engineering, PhD in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering. The team reached Velocity’s $5K semi-finals fall term 2022. 

Up Start is accepting applications. You can read more about the program and apply here