Conestoga news

April 30, 2020 2:08 PM

Protecting essential workers during COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers at Conestoga have received new funding for their work on a mobile software application that will help critical supply chain workers maintain physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Researchers at Conestoga have received new funding for a mobile software application that will help critical supply chain workers maintain physical distancing. The prototype is being developed by researchers at the college’s SMART Centre in collaboration with Conestoga Cold Storage.

The prototype is being developed by researchers at the college’s SMART (Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies) Centre in collaboration with Conestoga Cold Storage (CCS), a Kitchener-based distribution and warehousing company that operates five highly automated cold storage warehouses in Canada. 

Each day, hundreds of truck drivers, now deemed essential workers, move between the company’s facilities, hauling frozen food and other goods across the country. The new software application will allow drivers to remain in their trucks and avoid face-to-face contact when arriving at a CCS facility. 

“Working in collaboration with CCS programmers, we have built an application that uses the concept of geofencing to monitor truck drivers as they approach CCS facilities,” said Principal Investigator Russell Foubert. “By using GPS or cellular data, the system can track drivers to understand when their trucks are within the appropriate range, then issue door assignments to drivers through a mobile check-in process, eliminating the need for them to enter the building.” 

Conestoga will access project funding thanks to support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through its contribution to the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) a consortium of post-secondary institutions that supports the research and development needs of Ontario manufacturers. 

“We are grateful for the government’s investment in this important research project that will help protect essential workers as we battle COVID-19,” said college President John Tibbits. “I am proud to see how quickly our applied research program was able to step up and respond to the innovation needs of industry in these challenging times.” 

Student researchers Taylor Beck and Travis Roy from Conestoga’s Software Engineering Technology program have been working on the project since January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic reached North America; however, there’s a new sense of urgency to deliver the prototype and use the additional funding to assist with the commercialization process. 

“Our cold storage facilities provide a critical service to food manufacturers across the country. The current situation has highlighted the importance of keeping Canada’s food supply chain up and running so deliveries to grocery stores can continue uninterrupted,” said Gavin Sargeant, vice president of CCS. “If we can eliminate the need for truck drivers to park in our yards and enter our offices to do paperwork, we can reduce the risk to workers while also making our operations more efficient.” 

The testing phase is already underway, and the research team is on track to deliver the prototype to CCS in the next few weeks. The company hopes to have some of their drivers using the mobile software application by the end of the month.

 With some provincial health officials predicting the pandemic could last between 18 months and two years, researchers are also discussing potential opportunities to further enhance the system. 

“This application currently focuses on drivers arriving at CCS facilities, but we’re exploring how this technology could be used to automate more of the process,” explained Foubert. “For instance, can the system issue QR codes to drivers so they can flash them at an automated gate to exit the premises? It’s another way to reduce physical contact.”

Conestoga is a leader in applied research, working in collaboration with industry and community partners to drive innovation and provide opportunities for students to develop career-ready skills in experiential learning environments. The college is ranked among Canada’s top 12 research colleges and has committed more than $35 million in collaboration with public and private partners over the past five years to support applied research and innovation. 

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