September 12, 2009

Bikash Agarwal, Product Manager (left) and Kirk Petroski, Directory of Business Development (right) hold up the new SymBot device.

A little more than a year ago, Symboticware Inc. was a fledgling Greater Sudbury company operating out of a basement.

Today, it’s got an office in downtown Greater Sudbury staffed by seven very busy people.

Symboticware Inc.’s goal is to develop unique monitoring technology that can operate in harsh environments such as underground mines and the Canadian Arctic, but also stand out from existing monitoring/communication systems.

“In Sudbury, there’s a great need for technology, whether it’s environmental applications or harsh mining conditions,” explained Kirk Petroski, Symboticware Inc.’s director of business development.

“We wanted to develop something that’s more robust and versatile.”

What came about was the SymSat data collection and transmission system. And the product is now getting its feet wet.

Symboticware Inc. currently has two projects underway. Its Baffin Island Monitoring Project, which involves partners Laurentian University’s Living with Lakes Centre, Laurentian’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., involves the collection of 21 types of meteorological data such as humidity, barometric pressure and rainfall.

Symboticware's Baffin Island Monitor Project

Symboticware’s Baffin Island Monitoring Project

The data is required for environmental impact purposes because the area where the monitoring project is located is being touted as the world’s richest iron ore deposit.

“They are at a stage where they are doing licensing and compliance,” said Petroski. “What they need to do is establish a baseline. (So) They have to do monitoring.”

A SymSat data recording and transmission site, which is solar powered and feeds its data to a satellite, was just set up in May. Three impact sites, including Steensby Inlet, will be monitored for one year.

The second — the Pando project — concerns an open information management platform for mobile underground mining systems and involves partners Vale Inco, CEMI and Cast Resource Equipment.

A two-year endeavour, Pando is just getting underway, with eight months of planning and preparation work scheduled before things start happening underground.

That project will use the “SymBot” system, a more-advanced data collection system now in the final stages of development.

“It’s remote and harsh, but it’s underground,” said Petroski.

What will happen with the Pando project, explained Petroski, is the collection of information from remote-controlled machines through wireless fidelity or WiFi. That information can then be analyzed by mine operators on the surface.

“As a piece of equipment passes an access point, we can read it,” said Petroski. “It can detect things. It’s an opportunity to rectify a situation. (And) You can study engine control unit data. (And) Now, we are getting into areas that were hard to get to.”

Petroski said the goal of the Pando project is to give a mine operating team a better picture of what’s going on underground.

“What makes us unique is we designed an open system as opposed to a closed system,” he said.

“The system can read other things. I think the idea is to have access to real-time data. That data gets right to supervisors and operation guys in real-time fashion.

“I think, in the future, where we are going with this is new mine optimization and scheduling.”

Symboticware Inc.’s slogan is Innovate, Integrate, Inspire.

In late August, Symboticware Inc. received a $114,300 loan from FedNor through FedNor’s Northern Development Program — Information and Communications Technology. The money will go toward the development and marketing of products for use in remote monitoring applications in Northern Ontario.

“It’s going to the development of OPIS — Open Platform for Intelligence Systems,” said Petroski. “It’s the software side of the system. SymBot is the hardware. OPIS is the software.”

Petroski is a big believer in research and development. Standing still in an ever-changing world, he says, is not healthy for any business.

“Companies need to invest in research and development for times like this,” he said.

“It’s planning ahead … We are not only competing locally, but nationally, as well. If we are going to start competing internationally, we have to be ready.”

One of the big advantages of Symboticware Inc.’s soon-to-be- introduced SymBot system is that it will have a 16-gigabyte data storage capacity. That’s 100 times the storage capacity of other systems, said Petroski.

“This is not just collecting data, but it has the ability to make decisions at the scene,” he said.

“It’s not just raw data.” Another advantage with the

SymSat and SymBot systems is that they can both be very easily updated.

“They are very modular,” said Petroski. “That’s one big advantage to it. We can swap computers (in them).”

Next summer, the plan is to return to the Baffin Island SymSat site and replace it with a SymBot system, added Petroski.