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Lakehead student develops new product to detect falls

The school's Ingenuity incubator space helps students develop business ventures

THUNDER BAY — The absence of a business background isn't stopping a Lakehead University student from embarking on a career as an entrepreneur.

Chris Silver of Fort Frances recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in software engineering program, and is currently studying for his master's degree in electrical and computer engineering.

He's also recently graduated from the Ascend Accelerator boot-camp-style program hosted by the Ingenuity incubator space at Lakehead, where he received mentorship and attended workshops that help students develop business ventures.

Silver's project, Silver Vantage Software, uses computer vision and machine learning to create a thermal fall detection system for elderly people or other individuals living alone who may be at risk of falling.

A thermal sensor monitors a room, and will send an alert to a family member or personal support worker if a fall is detected.

"This is completely automated. The users doesn't have to do anything on their end. It's an alternative to most of the current solutions, which use pendants that you have to press if you've fallen. Sometimes you can fall and become unconscious, or you might forget to wear it," Silver said in an interview this week.

As an extension of the product, he's also looking to use the system to collect metrics.

"For example how often people are in the area, and for how long, to get a mobility score. So if it's noticing that you're stumbling more often, it might be a predictor of falls to come soon.  We also want to do a sleeping score — if you're sleeping at the same time every night, and how often you get up. Just so there's other ways that you could improve the health of these people."

If all goes well, the fall detection system will hit the market sometime early in 2024.

"All through high school and university... I always wanted to have my own business. But I never really had the idea until the fourth year of my undergraduate degree," Silver said.

Initially, he was working with two other students.

"We were originally going to do fever detection using a thermal sensor, because it was in the middle of COVID... But we found there were already some solutions, so we switched our focus to the fall detection system."

Silver is offering a modest gift card to entice volunteers to help collect data for the program by coming to the university.

Applications can be submitted online.

To date, it's mostly students who have been participating, but he'd like to recruit older people in order to gather data from a more representative population.

Student Louis Johnson developed a product to help small businesses market their wares

This year's cohort in the Ascend Accelerator boot camp also included student Louis Johnson, who's from the Bahamas.

His project, called Liaison, implements a completely automated locker system that allows artists and entrepreneurs to market and sell their crafts and products in high foot-traffic locations.

Customers would be able to use their phones to scan a unique code on each locker to obtain the price, complete product description, and seller's information before proceeding with a purchase on-site.

Johnson calls his innovation a small-business middleman.

"There's a lot of talent within Thunder Bay, but there's a huge disconnect between having your business or your craft and getting it to the consumer. It's very expensive and time-consuming... A lot of people don't have the means to get a storefront, or the inventory to set up a storefront, so this is a perfect opportunity for them to showcase their products in an affordable way. Instead of having to wait for pop-up shows, their products can be displayed continuously."

He said potential locations for the lockers include places such as the university, the Goods and Co. Market in the former Eaton's building, Thunder Bay Airport and the intercity area, but arrangements still need to be negotiated.

Johnson credits Lakehead's incubator space with helping him overcome his own skepticism about starting up a business.

"As a physics graduate and a mechanical engineering student with no business background, I was doubtful of my capabilities to become an entrepreneur," he said.

"With guidance and support from Ingenuity, the self-doubt started to fade, and the end goal became much more attainable."

Johnson said he enjoys living in Thunder Bay and hopes to remain in the community after he completes his studies in 2025.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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