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Webcams and wearable tech are going to the dogs, literally

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Canadians will spend an average of $65 on their pets this holiday season, according to accounting firm PwC’s holiday outlook.

Some of the hottest gifts are new devices to help us monitor and better understand our pets when we aren’t home.

The Furbo is a dog camera that holds treats inside and allows the user to see their pet, speak to them and hit a button to release a treat, all from a smartphone.

It’s just one of many similar tech products available for pets.

CleverPet is designed to activate a dog’s mind and keep them busy throughout the day. The device sits on the floor and offers sequence and memory games using lights and sounds to stimulate their brains.

There are also tracking devices that attach to collars like Findster Duo+, a tiny, smart wearable device to monitor a pet’s location, and how much they’re moving or resting, in real time on a smartphone.

Customer worries new tech would confuse her pet

Jessi Grigor owns a dog and two cats in Toronto. She’s thinking about buying a device to observe them when nobody’s home.

“My partner was actually talking about getting the Furbo for Christmas,” said Grigor. “He’s into it; I’m still trying to decide whether it’s worth it or not.”

Though she’s intrigued, she worries about how her dog, Indy, might respond.

Jessi Grigor, with her dog Indy, is weighing the pros and cons of purchasing a dog camera. (Jason Osler/CBC)

“I like the technology. I like that we can give her treats. I like that we can see what she’s up to,” said Grigor. “[But] I feel like she would be very confused, personally. I think if she heard our voice, [she] couldn’t understand that we’re not there.”

Grigor says she wants to do some more research before spending the money on a web camera that dispenses treats.

“I think I still need to read more reviews and kind of get a better idea of what the experience is like,” said Grigor. “I think the way companies market things, they can sound perfect but, in theory, is it actually what it says it’s going to be?”

Tech can help identify issues of separation anxiety

Rebecca Ledger is an animal behaviour and welfare scientist in Vancouver who uses some of the technology professionally.

“I like using these webcams, because it really does give us a very independent look into what dogs are actually doing when they’re on their own,” said Ledger. “It helps us to implement treatment protocols for those dogs, as well.”

Treatment could address issues like separation anxiety a pet might experience when their owner is away from the home.

Rebecca Ledger lives in Vancouver with her husband, three children, two rescue cats, Gilly and Sisko, and her English springer spaniels, Pippa and Poppy. (Rebecca Ledger/Twitter)

“There’s a lot of stories of people who, until they got these products, had no idea how distressed their animals were when they were left on their own,” said Ledger.

Still, she cautions consumers to approach these products with a critical eye.

“I obviously see some value in knowing what our pets are doing when they’re by themselves, but these devices aren’t panaceas.”

‘Potential for your pet to become more anxious or frustrated’

Ledger is concerned that acquiring too much information about our pets could lead us to make assumptions about how they feel.

“We have to look at the whole animal — look at the whole context of what these devices are recording,” said Ledger. “And not necessarily assuming, that just because we observe these very key behaviours, that our dogs are suffering and need some kind of device.”

Ledger says it’s best to take the information acquired from a device to a veterinarian who is trained to diagnose a problem.

And most of all, she says to remember the tech may or may not appeal to all pets.

“If you are thinking of getting one of these devices, just bear in mind that it’s not that there’s something wrong with your pet if it isn’t for your pet,” said Ledger. “Know that there is the potential for your pet to become more anxious or frustrated as a result of being able to hear you, but not interact with you in any other way.”

Still, consumers appear to be lapping up the latest pet tech trends. Global market research company Technavio says the pet monitoring camera market will grow by 26 per cent annually over the next few years.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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