Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon. My name is Dan Wayner. I am vice-president for emerging technologies at the National Research Council of Canada. I have with me Dr. Duncan Stewart who is our general manager of the NRC's security and disruptive technologies portfolio. I am pleased to be here on behalf of NRC to talk about disruptive technologies today.
NRC is Canada’s research and technology organization. RTOs, as we call them, are market-driven organizations whose primary job is to develop and deploy technology. In a way, we act as a link in the innovation system by stimulating business investment in R and D, adding value to research investments, reducing risks, and in many cases developing market-focused technologies in our research facilities across Canada.
The NRC has more than 2,000 employees working in research and development. They are experts in a multitude of scientific and technical fields and they are equipped to respond to the current and future needs of Canadian industry. The NRC is able to quickly put together multidisciplinary teams to help people in industry to overcome any difficulties they are facing. These may be in meeting urgent short-term needs or in establishing basic knowledge and technology that will allow them to tackle new markets.
NRC has a track record in advancing and delivering technology solutions in collaboration with Canadian industry. Some of the examples include flying the world’s first civil jet flight powered by 100% biofuel; pioneering the Internet in Canada; launching the world’s first national optical R and D network; inventing 3-D laser scanning technologies that are now used extensively by the film industry; medical breakthroughs, including an infant meningitis vaccine, the world’s first cardiac pacemaker, and the first medical isotopes for use in nuclear medicine; and inventing the fastest lasers in the world with light pulses now approaching a billionth of a billionth of a second.
As Vice-President of Emerging Technologies, I have as one of my duties to make sure that the NRC's long-term investments in science and technology are focused on the technological issues that may threaten or stimulate Canada's economy or improve the lives of Canadians in the next two decades.
In order to do that, we are implementing and supporting certain capabilities, by which I mean expertise and research and development platforms in various fields, such as high-volume data analytics, quantum technologies, optical technologies and nanotechnologies, to mention but a few.
The term disruptive technology typically refers to a technology that creates a profound, discontinuous change or quantum jump in capability or cost performance. It is important to understand the impacts are economic and social, affecting how we live, work, and communicate. We are really talking about disruptive innovations. I want to introduce that term. The technology in itself is not disruptive until it is deployed into the marketplace and used.
There are many examples from the past of how technologies or combinations of technologies have driven disruptions. The discovery of the double helix in the early 1950s was transformational for science, but not disruptive. However, combined with rapid DNA sequencing, proteomics, and big data, we find ourselves in the early days of personalized medicine, which we believe will be disruptive. The transistor led to the demise of the vacuum tube industry, which might be considered a disruption for that industry, but combined with the laser, fibre optic data transmission, data analytics, and business innovation, we have e-retail. E-retail is truly a disruption in economies today. In the more recent past we could look at smartphones, a Canadian invention, as an example of a technology that has had a huge economic impact and has driven societal changes.
The idea of a disruptive technology or innovation is not about the technology itself, but about the impact it has on our lives. Will the self-driven car be a disruptive innovation? Maybe, but we won't know until it's developed and deployed and we actually see the impact it will have on the way we work and live.
What will Canada need to continue its influence in the development and deployment of the so-called “disruptive”, that is to say revolutionary, innovations of the future? Identifying the innovations that will get to the finish line is difficult, but choosing the right race to enter is even more so.
When we know that we are in the right race, it will be easier to establish which technological platforms we really have to have in order to clear the track for those innovations.
I want to focus on a key ingredient. We're here in part to talk about what it is going to take for Canada to be competitive in the development of potentially disruptive technology, and the key ingredient for me is collaboration.
A well-organized innovation system can be like a professional hockey team. There are a number of players on the innovation landscape, universities, RTOs like NRC or CNL, for example, and others at the provincial level, all of whom have a role to play. The goalies don’t try to score goals, the right wingers don’t try to do the left wingers' jobs, but we do back each other up when it's needed. In the absence of collaboration, the innovation system feels like kids’ hockey, if I could use that analogy; that is, we all chase the puck and we end up competing with each other instead of organizing ourselves to win the game.
There are, in fact, examples of collaboration excellence in Canada focused on disruptive innovation. I'll refer to just one, and that is the quantum computing public-private partnership, which is really centred in Waterloo. It's a tremendous example of technology being driven by a vision of the future. In my view, collaboration between universities, RTOs such as NRC, and industry is the key success factor. In one direction, emerging science can lead to new technologies that have the potential to address market opportunities, but looking in the other direction, industry knows where the market opportunities actually are and has the opportunity to influence the direction of S and T.
RTOs like NRC have the capability to be the link, taking emerging science ideas and integrating them into new technology prototypes and processes. When it works well, it's a virtuous circle with industry motivating scientists to address key knowledge and technology gaps, and scientists working with industry to integrate emerging technologies into their products and processes, thus giving them the competitive edge in a global market.
As an RTO, how is NRC supporting Canadian industry to develop disruptive technologies? The NRC's printable electronics program is a good example of an initiative to foster a new industry ecosystem for Canada. Printable electronics is an emerging, advanced manufacturing technology, really part of an additive manufacturing family that's enabling lower cost digital fabrication of electronic devices. It has the potential to be a key component to enable potentially disruptive innovations such as the Internet of things.
The program is integrated into an industry-driven printable electronics consortium that was launched in 2012 and has company members from across the entire value chain. The consortium sets the R and D priorities, and NRC carries out R and D in collaboration with the industry partners on technology demonstrations that de-risk the advancement and deployment of the technologies. The goal is to catalyze a globally competitive pivotal electronic sector in Canada. To date, 11 technologies have been developed in collaboration with NRC that have been transferred to Canadian industry to commercialize PE products.
One of our licensees, Raymor Industries from Boisbriand, Quebec, won the award for the world’s best new material at the IDTechEx USA 2014 conference, which is the world’s largest printed electronics conference and trade show. The material, now marketed by Raymor, is the highest purity semiconducting nanotube ink to be commercially available today, a potentially disruptive innovation for the flexible electronics industry.
Another example comes from the National Institute for Nanotechnology, a collaboration between NRC and the University of Alberta. We have collaborated together for some years, working at the cutting edge of nanotechnology. One of these collaborations has led to the creation of a new company, QSi, to develop and commercialize a fundamentally new approach to atomic-scale, ultra-low-power computing circuits and devices that are faster than existing devices while consuming orders of magnitude less power. NRC’s role was to take a concept developed at the laboratory and demonstrate the possibility of being able to scale this up into a manufacturing process, a critical milestone to attract investors.
In closing, I'd like to reiterate that Canada is well positioned to be a major player in the development and deployment of potentially disruptive technologies. Collaboration across the innovation landscape is key, bringing together universities, RTOs such as NRC, and industry to ensure that we have a robust innovation pipeline focused on Canadian and global opportunities.
Thank you very much.