Vancouver tech company wins $200,000 award from Department of National Defence

Metaspectral, a B.C. company specializing in deriving real-time insights from high-resolution imaging software, has won nearly $230,000 from the federal Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program.

Ultra-high-resolution imaging software with AI-driven insights finds favour with defence innovation funding

Metaspectral, a B.C. company specializing in deriving real-time insights from high-resolution imaging software, has won nearly $230,000 from the Department of National Defence’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program.

The program saw 210 participants submit 283 proposals for solving seven challenges.

Vancouver-based Metaspectral is one of the nine winners of the Better Than Meets the Eye challenge and among 42 recipients of the “first funding component” award, which it will use to finance the development of a prototype expected at the end of the year.

Metaspectral’s technology will help maritime lookouts on the high seas to spot, track and categorize objects of interest, thanks to its ability to take high-resolution images, store and transmit them with lossless compression, and analyze them in real time with machine learning software.

Co-founder and CEO Francis Doumet explains the need for Metaspectral’s technology in far-flung places like the open ocean.

“The larger you go in resolution, the harder it is to manage this type of imagery,” Doumet says. “Especially when you are in bandwidth-constrained environments, [where you] don’t have a luxury of a wired connection [to send images] back to the ground or back to land.”

Such images typically get sent via satellite, a method that Doumet calls “brittle” because it’s unreliable, expensive and slow.

Metaspectral wants to change that for the Canadian Navy with a twofold solution.

“[The sensor] would analyze a bunch of stuff on the ship to give people on the ship immediate insight on what’s being seen,” Doumet says.

This would alleviate the concern of human error by lookouts, who can get tired or complacent on watch and must often contend with poor weather.

“Second, we would also want to enable sending all that data as fast as we can to a command-and-control centre,” Doumet says. “That’s where they would aggregate data from different sensors.”

And that’s where it becomes valuable to funnel data efficiently, Doumet adds, because analysts can look at it and make informed decisions about what’s going on in the field.

Credit: Pallavi Rao

The value of the IDEaS program doubled from 2019 to 2020, when the number of funded entries climbed to 278 from 172

The company’s imaging technology will also find uses in other spheres, says co-founder and CTO Migel Tissera. Metaspectral has won contracts to create products in the plastics industry, specifically in recycling. It’s also looking into business on the space communication side to streamline transmitting data from space, making it more efficient and cost-effective.   

Doumet says Metaspectral’s ability to compress ultra-high-res images and its machine learning-driven analysis gives it an edge over rivals. “We are essentially capable of extracting much more information from the same image as our competitors can.”

After the prototype, Metaspectral can win up to $1 million to further develop its software into a quasi-operational state under phase 1-B of the IDEaS program.

“And if that goes well,” Doumet says, “the third phase is the contract up to $20 million with the Canadian military to equip and bring the prototype from development to final form and function.”

Launched in 2018, the IDEaS program aims to access and promote innovative solutions to augment defence and security needs of the country. It provides funding to innovators and access to the DND’s national network of science and research centres.

With a five-person team (which is on the lookout for a full-stack developer), Metaspectral has ambitious goals and is in illustrious company. Other recipients of the first funding component award include UBC, UVic, University of Calgary, University of Guelph and Lockheed Martin Canada.