SFU researchers help defend Canada with winning innovation projects

To help solve science and technology challenges posed by Canada’s Department of Defence, Simon Fraser University researchers submitted 10 projects to the IDEaS program and an astounding five were accepted. These funded projects—awarded over $900,000 in total—reinforce SFU’s national impact and commitment to research that benefits society.

While defence and security can bring to mind violence, war, terrorism and xenophobia, the Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program is a call for proposals to address a different set of challenges. For example, how can the safety of personnel be ensured? Are there ways to navigate surroundings in the absence of a Global Positioning System (GPS)? Can lightweight equipment be built to detect hazards?

Researchers from SFU’s Faculty of Science and Faculty of Applied Sciences successfully proposed relevant solutions to the following five complex problems.

Measuring physical performance

SFU School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering professor Behraad Bahreyni is developing a low cost, disposable smart patch that can be affixed directly on the skin to monitor biophysical conditions such as mechanical strain, temperature and humidity. In order to build the sensor, Bahreyni and his team are developing sensitive fibers that are thinner than spider silk. The resulting nano-fibrous material is then incorporated into textiles to create a smart patch with various sensing capabilities. Once fully developed, the smart patch will allow military personnel to accurately and reliably measure physical activity during training and military missions.

“We are in the early stages of this work and the IDEaS program provides timely support for leading-edge research,” says Bahreyni. Bahreyni is conducting this research in collaboration with SFU’s School of Engineering Science and open-access core facility, 4D LABS.

Exposure to cold

Matt White, an associate professor in the department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, will be directing his $185,000 IDEaS funding to solve a cold exposure problem that Canadian troops are having in the Arctic.

To alleviate debilitating impairments of manual dexterity and strength, White will work with the Wilson School of Design at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Watson Gloves and Dr. Faming Wang from Hong Kong Polytechnic University to design novel prototype upper limb cold protection technical apparel. The apparel will be tested in White’s CFI-funded climatic chamber in subzero conditions from -20°C to -60°C.

Detecting hazards

Professor Michael Adachi from SFU’s School of Engineering Science is developing novel flexible sensor technology for detecting chemical and biological hazards. The technology involves a new type of material known as monolayer transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs. TMDs are extremely thin and have unique properties such as superconductivity, flexibility and piezoelectricity—the ability to accumulate an electric charge due to an applied mechanical stress.

When incorporated into acoustic wave sensors, the end result is a low-cost, small and portable sensor that has high-sensitivity and rapid real-time operation. Adachi’s goal is to develop a chemical and biological hazard detector that is miniature in size and flexible so it can be incorporated into wearable garments used by emergency medical personnel or Canadian Armed Forces; however, there are other real-world applications for this technology. “The development of acoustic sensors using monolayer TMDs can extend to a variety of other applications such as diagnostic biosensors and underwater sonar receivers,” says Adachi.

Identifying objects in dangerous environments

Professor Gary Leach from SFU’s Department of Chemistry received $200,000 toward the development of a new imaging technology to aid Canadian Armed Forces and security personnel in the real-time detection, identification and tracking of objects in complex and dangerous environments.

Current long wavelength imaging technologies are expensive because they use rare materials and often require cooling, making them cumbersome and impractical for widespread deployment. Leach and his team will leverage inexpensive materials and the excitation of surface electrons at highly textured metal surfaces to develop a more sensitive and less costly alternative.

Navigation without GPS

Professor Edward Park from SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering will use the funding to develop a head-worn device that can provide accurate positioning and mapping details about an individual’s surroundings.

“There are increasing concerns about Canadian and allies' military dependence on GPS and the vulnerabilities that may affect a mission’s success if GPS is not available, due to hostile interference through jamming,” says Park. “This project will lead to the development of a new non-satellite-based PNT (Position, Navigation and Timing) capability that will be crucial when military personnel's GPS equipment is affected by urban, indoor, subterranean or other difficult environments.”

Park and his team are using multi-sensor fusion along with light detection and ranging (LiDAR), which involves pulsed laser light to measure the distance of surrounding obstacles to create a three-dimensional map of the environment. While a non-GPS navigation solution would be valuable for military missions, Park also sees his wearable device being used in other scenarios closer to home.

“The commercialization of the proposed head-worn wearable computing technology will be beneficial for other sectors such as police and search and rescue, and can also be applied for social uses, such as gaming and augmented reality,” adds Park.

See the full list of IDEas Recipients from the Government of Canada.