GCCIR and the EU Chamber of Commerce in Canada-West join the Enterprise Europe Network

Facilitating Trade, Investment, and Innovation between Canada and the European Union


The entry of Canada into the Enterprise Europe Network in June 2020 opens a completely new range of opportunities for European SMEs in North America.

Enterprise Canada Network

The new Business Cooperation Centre established in Canada is called the Enterprise Canada Network. It comprises the German Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research (GCCIR) in Edmonton, Alberta, and the EU Chamber of Commerce in Canada West (EUCCCW) in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It currently covers the four provinces in Western Canada – British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba – and will soon be expanded to cover Eastern Canada as well.

Working with strategic partners in Canada and within a global network of over 600 business support organizations, the Enterprise Canada Network offers access to market intelligence, partnering opportunities, and innovation support for EU SMEs looking for business opportunities in Canada, and vice versa for Canadian SMEs.

“With many years of experience in fostering international connections between SMEs for trade and innovation, the GCCIR and the EUCCCW are thrilled to be able to expand our operations within a network of this calibre, and to provide SMEs from the EU and Canada with new and exciting opportunities,” says Dr. Katelyn Petersen, Executive Director of the GCCIR and Coordinator of the Enterprise Canada Network.

Opportunities for trade and technology partnerships

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a major role in the Canadian economy: 98% of all businesses have fewer than 100 employees and 99% have fewer than 500 employees. Canadian SME’s are known for their dedication to quality and drive to innovate.

Complemented by a talented international workforce, they excel in fields as diverse as: cleantech, ICT and digital media, life sciences, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, forestry, mining, energy and agriculture.

It is your turn now!

It is your chance to discover new opportunities and network with potential partners in Canada and the European Union vice-versa!

For any inquiries, EU-based SMEs should contact the local Enterprise Europe Network partner in their own country first (find a local contact point) who will then get in touch with the Network member in Canada (ECN) for support.

Canada is in a great position for global trade and business, with one of the strongest and most stable economies in the world. According to the International Monetary Fund, Canada was ranked 10th in the world for its GDP last year, and 14th according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019.

The European Union represents Canada’s second largest trading partner in goods and services after the US. It is also Canada’s second largest destination for foreign investment abroad and the second largest source of foreign investment.

Canada and the EU have always been well aware of their dynamic trade and investment relationship, which will be further enhanced through the effective implementation of a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA.

“CETA is not just about tariff elimination for goods, it is above all about improved access for trade in services and government procurement, as well as addressing other trade barriers by facilitating labour mobility, regulatory cooperation, conformity assessment and mutual recognition of professional credentials,” says Alex Martyniak, Executive Director of EU Chamber of Commerce in Canada West.

“CETA has brought Canada and the EU closer together. There are already many ongoing innovative and fruitful collaborations between European and Canadian companies. Through the new cooperation in the Enterprise Europe Network, we look forward to further deepening this. We are very happy to welcome Canada in the Enterprise Europe Network.” said Benno Weissner, Center of Innovation and Technology in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, Mentor for the Enterprise Canada Network.

CETA is the most ambitious and progressive bilateral trade agreement to date. Assisting European and Canadian companies in capitalizing on the benefits of CETA is one of the main goals of the newly established Enterprise Canada Network.

Local contacts in Canada

*This article was also published on the Enterprise Europe Network’s website here.

Preparing for an icy year in the arctic: Interview with Bjela König

Bjela König

Image Source: https://www.helmholtz.de/fileadmin/user_upload/20180102%C3%9F_BjelaKoenig005_EHorvath.jpg


The following interview was conducted in German by Sebastian Grote and originally published in the Helmholtz Perspektiven magazine in Fall 2019. It was translated by GCCIR staff members.

Bjela König is the team leader for safety and logistics personnel for the MOSAiC expedition.


1. The MOSAiC expedition involves bringing a modern research icebreaker close to the north pole in winter. It is the first expedition of its kind. What are the risks of such a mission?

Indeed, we have to face new challenges, because a comparable endeavor has never been undertaken before. Firstly, we have to let go of the idealized image of snow-white icy landscapes seamlessly surrounding the ship. There will be many pools of melted ice and we’ll have to  stomp through water on many occasions. Aside from that, we could get completely snowed in. Storms and blizzards will change the landscape. These could also cause the ice surrounding the ship to push together and form hummocks* under the increased pressure, or to break and drift apart.


2. Could the ice floe break?

Yes, we are preparing for such a scenario as well, even if there is only a very small chance of that happening right under our feet. The area surrounding the ship will constantly be monitored by infrared cameras. This way we can detect and prepare for potential breaks hours before they occur. But we are also aware that we will likely have to move the temporary tents and research camp on the ice throughout the year.


3. What are the biggest risks?

Many dangers will result from the weather conditions. If there is fog, we will have difficulties  orienting ourselves and working safely. Also, the temperatures could fall below minus 40 degrees Celsius. With the windchill, it could feel even colder. I see further risks developing, which could result in injury through daily work on the ice.


4. How can the dangers of the mission be decreased?

I systematically went through many scenarios that could theoretically happen. In the field of worker safety, it is a common method to separate the risk from the people, for example through setting up safety buffers. This, however, will not be possible for this mission, because then we would not be able to do the expedition in the first place. We have to accept that there will be risks throughout the mission. However, through protective clothing and organizational measures, we can keep the risks to a minimum.


5. What kind of protective clothing is it?

As most of the work will be completed at the edge of the ice, we can’t rule out the possibility that someone may fall into the water. The usual expedition overalls would soak full of water within a minute or so  and would get so heavy that they  would pull a person down into the depths of the Artic Ocean. They wouldn’t stand a chance. Therefore, we got so-called flotation suits for every team member. Additionally, all expedition members that will be working close to the edge of the ice will have to wear harnesses and safety ropes.


6. What rules do the participants and researchers have to follow when they leave the ship?

Everyone will be required to sign out when they leave the ship, so we always know how many people are currently out on the ice. We will also watch that no one is working on the ice alone. We also plan to install an alarm system that is similar to the one at the Neumayer-Station: the system will trigger  an alarm on every computer and workstation if a logged-out person does not return to the ship within a certain amount of time. It is  important that everyone always wears the required clothing and equipment. Those who venture further away from the ship will be required to carry an emergency kit, including a tent, camping mat, cooker, and provisions. However, expedition members will only camp outside in an emergency.


7. You were at a safety training session in Finland. Did you come across new potential risks?


I was training with expedition members how best to use the safety equipment, and I also observed how they took samples on the ice: What are the procedures for taking samples ? How do they extract an ice core? And what does all of this mean from a safety point of view? And I did indeed come across new problems through my observations. For instance, if five people work closely on the ice around one ice hole, they cannot all use one safety line each. Otherwise, they would get entangled after a short while.


8. Polar bears will probably be the most unpredictable danger. How do you prepare to decrease this risk?

Indeed, this is an important topic for everyone. We will establish a semicircular area right in front of the ship. Within this area, the researchers and other expedition members will be allowed to move freely. Six polar bear experts will monitor this area constantly. If a group moves further away from the ship, they will need to have someone with a gun. This is why many of the participants will also complete firearms training before the expedition.


9. What will happen if a polar bear really shows up at the research site?

If a polar bear shows up a number of kilometers away, the researchers will usually carry on with their work and observe the polar bear’s behavior. Should the bear come closer, at a certain distance the work will be stopped and those close to the ship will go aboard. If they are further away, they will go to one of the assembly points. We will first try to scare the polar bear away using whistles, acoustic and light ammunition, or air horns. To avoid polar bears approaching unnoticed, we will install either tripwires that trigger acoustic or light ammunition, or electric wires. We will also have infrared systems on board and the polar bear experts will be equipped with night vision devices.


10. What do you do in medical emergencies?

For every segment of the trip we will have a doctor onboard. The ship is  equipped with a fully stocked operating room. We are also preparing  evacuation procedures, so that for medical emergencies, we would be able to transport someone out to the mainland via helicopter or icebreaker.


11. The expedition participants will be on the ship Polarstern for several months. What does that mean from a psychological point of view?

We assume that there may be times were the fog is too thick to leave the ship and members will be forced to stay on board for weeks or longer. Such an isolation, of course, will result in frustration. Knowing that you won’t just be able to leave, no matter what may be happening at home, will weigh heavily on everyone as well. Preparing to deal with everyone’s mental health is, therefore, just as important for me and my team as preparing the other safety measures that we talked about.


*hummock, a hump or ridge in an ice field.


Grote, Sebastian. “Eine Gewisse Grundgefahr Müssen Wir in Kauf Nehmen.” Helmholtz Perspektiven: Das Forschungsmagazin Der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, no. 3, 2019, pp. 14–15.

In-text Image Source:


Who is Santa Claus really? Research into his origin and history unmask a more realistic image

santa image chronology
An evolving image of a popular man.

December is a month that predominantly focuses on Christmas. Everybody is getting ready for the festivities, buying presents and Christmas trees, listening to songs and stories of Christmas, with children eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, who is also known as Kris Kringle. But who really is this mythical figure that most everyone around the globe knows and adores?

The story of Santa Claus dates back to the 4th Century and begins with a man called Nicholas, later known as Nicholas of Myra or Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a charitable, pious man from what is now present-day Turkey. Persecuted and imprisoned as a young man by the Roman Empire due to his Christian beliefs, he rose to fame under the Roman emperor Constantine, who, contrary to his predecessors, ended the persecution of Christians and issued an edict that protected Christians instead. This allowed Nicholas to become an early Christian bishop in Myra, a small Roman town in modern-day Turkey. Due to his many charitable and merciful acts before and during his time as bishop, Nicholas’ fame spread all over Europe and prevailed long after his death.

The most well-known story stems from the time when Nicholas was still a young man. He had heard of an indebted father of three young girls. The father was about to sell his daughters into prostitution in order to pay his debts, so Nicholas, who must have come from a wealthy family, stopped by the father’s house for three nights and secretly delivered three bags of gold. On the third night the father awaited the arrival of the mysterious man and asked him to reveal his identity so he could  thank the man. The gold allowed the father to pay off his debts and saved the girls from prostitution.

Another story stems from Nicholas’ time as bishop of Myra. He had heard of three pious men who were about to be executed shortly after Constantine had issued his edict to protect them. The Roman guards were about to execute the men anyway, so Nicholas with his new powers as bishop, intervened, and saved the men’s lives.

These acts and great stories from Nicholas of Myra’s life are why, after his death, he was named the patron of children and magical gift bringer. His tales also made Nicholas the unchallenged bringer of gifts in Europe for several hundred years. From 1200 to 1500, celebrations were held on the day of his death, 6 December 343, to remember his name and acts. The tradition of gift giving on this day can be traced back to the 12th century. According to a BBC documentary about the life and death of St. Nicholas, it was French nuns who were so inspired by the legend of Nicholas that on St. Nicholas Day (December 6) they filled socks with nuts and fruits and laid them at the houses of the poor. This tradition became established throughout Europe, where children today still clean their boots the night before St. Nicholas Day and put them outside their doors to find them filled with treats and fruits on the morning of December 6. In North America, this has transformed into the tradition of Christmas stockings.

st. nicholas
The historic figure St. Nicholas.

With the Reformation in the 16th century under Martin Luther, religious relics and saints were seen as unfavorable for many reasons across much of Europe. Mainly, it was due to a growing industry around religious relics that had led to their abuse. Many scientists also believe that the festivities around St. Nicholas had grown so tremendously that especially the Protestants felt that these celebrations shifted the focus too much from celebrating the roots of the Christian belief, namely Jesus Christ and his birth. Thus, tremendous efforts were made during the Reformation to move these festivities to December 24th, while also trying to ban festivities around St. Nicholas. The job of gift giving fell to baby Jesus, which in Germanic areas became known as Christkind or Christkindl (meaning “Christ child”). The term later entered into the English language, presumably via German speaking immigrants to the New World in the 17th and 18th Centuries, where it transformed to “Kris Kringle”. It was also in the New World where the traditions and celebrations of especially Dutch and German speaking settlers around St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas in Dutch) and the Christkind merged to our modern-day Santa Claus.

His modern appearance seems to be based on Germanic depictions of St. Nicholas that the settlers brought with them. St. Nicholas traditionally dressed in brown or green robes. The idea that the change to red was made by the Coca Cola company has been heavily promoted in recent years –  an idea the company no doubt knew to use to their advantage. However, according to historian Prof. Gerry Bowler with the University of Manitoba, it was actually the cartoonist Thomas Nast who first depicted Santa Claus in red robes in the 1870s. “Nast produced numerous drawings of Santa for Harper’s Weekly over a period of more than 20 years and, having first portrayed him in the Stars and Stripes and green, eventually […] settled on red” (Curtis). It is unknown why Nast settled on red. Some researchers suggest Nast may have wanted to link back to the iconography of St. Nicholas, who very often was depicted in red robes. But, as Curtis argues, it could also just have been for aesthetic reasons.

a potential real face
A potential real face of a historic Good Samaritan.

But how did Santa end up living at the North Pole, compared to old Germanic tales, where he comes from the woods or simply from faraway lands? This can be attributed to Thomas Nast, who according to Stephen Moss, “was the first to portray Santa as a native of the North Pole”. Further attributes of Santa Claus where fleshed out in a poem that was anonymously published in the Troy Sentinel in 1823 entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Today it is better known as “The Night Before Christmas”. The poem instantly rose to fame and was later claimed by Clement Clarke Moore, whereas some scholars believe it was written by Henry Livingston Jr. Nevertheless, it was this very poem that illustrated St. Nicholas with a flying sleigh full of toys that is pulled by eight reindeer.

The fame of St. Nicholas had many scientists wonder for years what the real Nicholas of Myra actually looked like. With ever advancing technology, anthropologist Prof. Caroline Wilkinson from Manchester University and scientists at the Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab achieved the previously undoable and were able to create a three-dimensional computer-generated model based on x-rays and measurements taken from what are believed to be Nicholas of Myra’s remains. The remains are kept in a basilica in Bari, Italy. In the 1950s, the Vatican had granted the anthropologist Prof. Luigi Martino permission to exhume and examine them during restoration work at the basilica. The facial reconstruction techniques and 3D interactive technology used to virtually reconstruct the x-ray scans of Nicholas’ skull and face are considered to be 70% reliable. However, Prof. Wilkinson and her team of scientists acknowledge that they worked from historic data and thus some detail may have been lost.

Auswärtiges Amt. “Who Is Actually Nikolaus? – Traditional Characters in German Christmas Mythology.” Who Is Actually Nikolaus? – Traditional Characters in German Christmas Mythology – Federal Foreign Office, 27 Nov. 2018, canada.diplo.de/ca-en/vertretungen/generalkonsulat2/-/2282786?pk_campaign=newsletter_%3F%3F%3Flabel.doctype.AANLIssue%3F%3F%3F_2019_12_04&pk_kwd=teaser_Who%2Bis%2Bactually%2BNikolaus%3F%2B-%2BTraditional%2Bcharacters%2Bin%2BGerman%2BChristmas%2BMythology.

Curtis, Polly. “Researchers Find the Real Face of Father Christmas.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Dec. 2004, www.theguardian.com/education/2004/dec/13/highereducation.uk.

Handwerk, Brian. “From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus: the Surprising Origins of Kris Kringle.” The History of How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus, National Geographic Partners, LLC, 25 Dec. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/12/131219-santa-claus-origin-history-christmas-facts-st-nicholas/.

McGarry, Patsy. “The Real Thing: Scientists Recreate Santa Claus’s Face.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times, 23 Dec. 2016, www.irishtimes.com/news/offbeat/the-real-thing-scientists-recreate-santa-claus-s-face-1.2915945.

Moss, Stephen. “Why Is Santa Red? You Asked Google – Here’s the Answer | Stephen Moss.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Dec. 2017, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/20/why-is-santa-red-google.

Image Sources:

Fig 1: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/96/fe/6b/96fe6b748924a208ef83b2379d5df464.jpg

Fig 2: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/e8/0c/d4/e80cd47bc1809bc7cc212a3e1f87d764.jpg

Fig 3: https://www.reifra.de/media/image/f3/fd/a8/3055_nostalgische_Praege_-_Postkarte_-_Nikolaus_mit_4_Ki_1_600x600.jpg

Fig 4: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/13/5b/9d/135b9d53b382e4e62ca0e6ab5fd6970e.jpg

Fig 5: https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/ca6b31bf344c8aa552548e2e45adb3660592f477/8_474_1902_1141/master/1902.jpg?width=620&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=d9e34284ab4b52bf9fc3a64ba737c132

Fig 6: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d9/Jaroslav_%C4%8Cerm%C3%A1k_%281831_-_1878%29_-_Sv._Mikul%C3%A1%C5%A1.jpg/220px-Jaroslav_%C4%8Cerm%C3%A1k_%281831_-_1878%29_-_Sv._Mikul%C3%A1%C5%A1.jpg

Fig 7: https://www.ndr.de/geschichte/nikolaus236_v-portraits.jpg

Fig 8: https://natgeo.imgix.net/74677.adapt.590.1.jpg?auto=compress,format&w=728

Fig 9: https://www.irishtimes.com/polopoly_fs/1.2915943.1482436049!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/box_620_330/image.jpg

Fig 10: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/51/60/53/516053222ef473cabf39387ba119778f.jpg

Our Digital Future – Edmonton / Milan


From 08:00 on November 29 until 08:00 November 30, 2019, 50 young minds will collide at Studio 96 in Edmonton to debate social relations in the digital age; technologies shifting everything from how we communicate with loved ones, to date and forge new friendships.

In the format of a 24-hour hackathon (or “Thinkathon”) participants will create short videos, social media campaigns, and recommendations to be shared with Canadian and European policy makers.

Youth now wield enormous, yet disorganized, power. In the 2019 federal election, for the first time in Canada, millennials made up the largest single bloc of eligible voters.

The government of Canada has made youth engagement a priority, just appointing to Cabinet a new Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

Meanwhile, policymakers continue to grapple with the privacy, security, and ethical implications of technological disruption.

These youth dialogues aim to engage youth (18-30) in the political life of their countries and help ensure their voices are included. The event is part of a series of 6 – “Our Digital Future – C’est ICI!” – being organised in 6 Canadian and 6 European cities between now and the end of 2020.

Below are a few impressions from the first Thinkathon (Montreal and Brussels) held in October 2019.

The project is organized by the Goethe-Institut, ThinkYoung and Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi NDG and funded by the European Union as part of its program, “EU-Canada Youth Transatlantic Civil Society Dialogues.”

For more information about the youth dialogues, contact:
Marcel Sangsari, Press and Information Agent, Goethe-Institut, +1 613 265-5207

GCCIR Award Recipient interns in the French Alps


My name is Stefani Johnson and I am the 2019 recipient of the GCCIR award. I am a student in the combined Science/Education program at the University of Alberta, Campus Saint Jean. This summer I participated in an internship through the University of Alberta’s e3 French Alps Go Abroad experience.

My internship was held at a botanical garden in the French Alps called the “Jardin du Lautaret”, under the supervision of the director of the garden, Dr. Jean-Gabriel Valay. During my internship I had three main roles: research, tour guides of the garden, and gardening. For the research component, I performed manipulations for the GrENE-net research project (Genomics of rapid Evolution in Novel Environments). In addition, I was invited to participate and observe other research experiments, such as one done on green algae and red algae (ALPAGA), one on marmots, and one on climate change in the French Alps (WARM).

The goal of the international GrENE-net project is to better understand evolutionary changes in plants given by the information of allelic frequencies. More specifically, the research aims to understand the links between various environmental conditions and genetic composition in the plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. All participants start with the same gene pools of approximately 200 different ecotypes of the Arabidopsis thaliana species. For this research, I was assigned to visit and survey the experiment at least once a week, as well as sample the flowers from individual plants. During my weekly visits, I had to keep a notebook with my observations on the number of plants. As well, I sampled the flowering individuals on June 7th, 2019 and put them into tubes that would be sent to the University of Tubingen for genetic testing.


Secondly, I was able to observe research experiments on green and red algae. On June 5th, 2019, I was invited by my supervisor, Dr. Jean-Gabriel Valay, to the col du Galibier along with two other researchers. We climbed the side of a mountain in order to collect snow with green algae. This type of algae starts off with a green color, and slowly changes to a red color over time. In order to look at the photosynthetic system of the algae, it must be collected when still green. Last year, the scientists arrived too late, only to find the red version of the algae. We were able to collect snow samples and take it back to the laboratory. Unfortunately, our snow samples did not contain any green algae.

On June 18th 2019, I was invited to observe the ALPAGA team collect red algae samples at the col des Cerces. I was able to observe researchers collecting data of the albedo and slope of the snow. Once the data was collected, they were able to take samples of the red algae in the snow.

On July 3rd, 2019, I was invited to observe the “Projet Marmotte Alpine”. This research project aims to understand the immune system of marmots, and the role played by the immune system to fight pollutants in blood plasma. I examined numerous cages with the supervisor, Dr. Aurélie Cohas. We installed magnetic trackers that would send a message to an application once a marmot was trapped in a cage.

Finally, I was able to participate in WARM, which is a research experiment that studies the effects of climate change in the French Alps. I visited the experimental site three times. The first visit was on June 17th, 2019, where we constructed the greenhouses that are used to increase the air temperature. For this experiment, there are four different plot types. The first plot has a greenhouse and we remove the dominant plant from the plot. The second plot has a greenhouse. The third plot is without a greenhouse and the dominant plant in the plot is also eliminated. The last plot does not have a greenhouse, and it represents the control of the experiment. My second and third visits were on July 15th and 16th, 2019. On these days we were able to eliminate the dominant plant species in the plots, which was a type of alpine clover.


This internship opportunity allowed me to gain knowledge on different types of field research work done in ecology. It has given me the opportunity to gain more skills that will be useful for me in my future endeavors. As well, I was able to improve my French skills by being fully immersed in a francophone work environment.

I am very grateful to GCCIR for their financial support that allowed me to participate in this life-changing opportunity. I am also appreciative to my supervisor, Dr. Jean-Gabriel Valay, as well as the staff and interns at the Jardin du Lautaret for their support during my internship. Finally, I wish to acknowledge my co-supervisors Dr. David Vergote and Dr. Martine Pellerin who were a great support throughout my internship.

Interview with Prof. Vladimír Mařík from the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics

7-MARIK-02 (4) CIIRC building

Since 2018, Prof. Mařík is the Scientific Director of the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics, and Cybernetics (CIIRC), which is located at the Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague. He was appointed Professor of Technical Cybernetics at CTU in 1990, and served as Head of the Department of Cybernetics – EU Center of Research Excellence at CTU from 1999 to 2013. In 1992, he founded the Rockwell Automation Research Center Prague, and with his 30 years experience in leading research activities in  industrial automation with a focus in applied AI he became one of the founding members of the CIIRC in 2013. He is author and co-author of 16 books, 160 scientific research papers and 5 US patents. Awarded the “Honorary Cross for Science and Art” in Austria in 2003 and the “Medal of Merit of the Czech Republic” in 2017, he now also leads the team of the Czech Industry 4.0 and the EU Project to establish the “Research and Innovation Center for Advanced Industrial Production – RECAIP 2019-24” at CIIRC.


1.    Prof. Mařík, among other roles, you are the Scientific Director of the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC). Could you tell us a bit more about CIIRC and its work in the field of Digital Twin technologies?

CIIRC is a new University Institute at the Czech Technical University in Prague. It was established 6 years ago. The new building was opened on May 2nd, 2017 and there are currently 250 researchers working in this facility comprising well-equipped labs and facilities. The industrial testbed, the only one of its type in the Czech Republic, represents a unique facility enabling researchers to perform physical manufacturing experiments with tens of robots and machine tools of different types. CIIRC became the home of the National Center for Industry 4.0 (2017), National Competence Center in Cybernetics and AI (2018), and European Digital Innovation Hub for AI (2019). CIIRC is a self-sustaining research institution: one third of its budget comes from industry, and nearly two thirds from competitive European and national project funding. The main goal is to gradually build CIIRC up into a national scientific and teaching workplace that is visible on a European and international level. Digital Twin technology represents an important part of the key technologies for the internet-based industrial revolution and is at the center of the AI research activities of our Institute. We are trying to define the relevant architectures and data structures for Digital Twins and to test the solutions in industrial practice. In cooperation with the International Data Spaces association (CIIRC serves as a hub for this association), we are also putting a lot of effort into the development of Digital Twin standards.


2.    Is there a project or result that you are particularly proud of?

There are already several European projects conducted at CIIRC with excellent results. I am, for example, very proud of the results of the ARUM Project, which resulted in a new architecture of the production scheduling system with real-life application at the Airbus production line for the A 350 fuselage being assembled in Hamburg. This is one of the first applications leveraging the agent-based technology. The agents are nothing else than Digital Twins equipped with the capability to share the global goal of activities, like e.g. minimizing time of assembling in an environment with dynamic changes (such as missing parts, broken components, lack of resources, etc.).


3.    Are there any collaborations between CIIRC and Canada in the field of Digital Twin technologies?

I have been personally cooperating in this field with the University of Calgary for more than 20 years. First, with one of the world-leading professors in this field, Prof. Douglas Norrie, and in the last decade with Prof. Robert Brennan. We have jointly contributed to the development of real-time agents in industrial control with the first applications in Rockwell Automation products. The other important long-term academic collaborator is Dr. Weiming Shen from the National Research Council , who is studying issues connected to collaborative manufacturing environments.


4.    You mentioned that CIIRC is building a new Center for Intelligent Manufacturing. What are the benefits this center will offer to researchers and, potentially, to companies as well?

The RICAIP Center (Research and Innovation Center for Advanced Industrial Production) is being built with the mission to make a significant contribution to fundamental and applied research in artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer science and robotics for advanced industry, to develop an EU R&D Infrastructure for advanced industrial production (RICAIP Industrial Testbed Core), and also to support other related European research infrastructures. The vision of the RICAIP founders is to build an outstanding international team of scholars with international visibility and impact in scientific research, and to be the key European centre for innovation and technology transfer for industry, business and the public.

Within the frame of this Center, a geographically distributed testbed for intelligent manufacturing will be built. The parts and components of this testbed will be integrated by using virtual and augmented reality technologies and will serve as a core element of the Pan-European testbed infrastructure. The goal is to help reduce the ramp-up time and costs for processes connected to introducing Industry 4.0 principles.

RICAIP, in the long-term perspective, will become a world-class, EUR 30 mil/year, distributed research centre with 350 researchers, significantly transcending the initial consortium members. With infrastructure in Prague and the core partnering institutions of VUT CEITEC Brno, DFKI Saarbruecken, ZEMA Saarburecken, and further nodes in Europe, RICAIP will be working together with industrial partners on more than 100 projects in all aspects of Industry 4.0, distributed manufacturing systems and value chains in a profoundly changing industrial sector.

The RICAIP Center is funded by the EU. Its Phase I was successfully completed in August 2018. Phase II, covering the years 2019-2025, was approved by the EU in April 2019. The total confirmed funding for this period from EU and ESFRI funding reaches 50 mil. EUR.


5.    Digital Twin technologies can provide companies and researchers with many benefits; however, their implementation is still quite complex and challenging. The technology requires smart physical objects or systems, i.e. objects or systems that are equipped with sensors, antennas or similar devices, so that they can communicate and transmit live data back to their digital twin. What role do you see CIIRC and its new center play in helping overcome these and similar challenges in Digital Twin technologies to make implementation easier and cheaper for a wider range of companies in the Czech Republic and internationally?

I feel that the main bottleneck  in industrial deployment of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) is the capacity of shop-floor communication and negotiation among the Digital Twins. The massive volume of messages to be exchanged between Digital Twins causes a queue of messages – a single delayed, “obsolete” message might cause misunderstandings or even failures within the global system. Our goal is to test and co-develop systems for 5G internet shop-floor communication, which is fast enough to resolve this issue. There are many theoretical and technical problems connected with this effort, such as “island” communication inside the workshop extended by dedicated 5G communication among the islands in the case of distributed manufacturing. We need to make the communication channels broader as the virtual and augmented reality plays an important role in our solutions – we want to really see the robots and other machines physically operating somewhere else as being an organic part of the whole manufacturing process. The experimental development of distributed manufacturing solutions helps to speed up the ramp-up processes when completing new manufacturing lines, or when solving the problems of retrofitting of production lines. And this is very important for Czech SMEs that are thinking about replacing or adding 2-3 new machines into their older manufacturing facility. The development and verification of this innovative solution might be carried out in a very short time, eliminating the need to physically move any machines. It will also be an extremely cheap and fast way to  upgrade current manufacturing workshops.


6.    How do you see Digital Twin technologies influencing industry in the Czech Republic in the near future? And how do you think this technology could change how we think of certain industries, jobs, information sharing, and security?

The Czech Republic is the “most industrialized” EU country, with more than 30 % of the GDP being generated by industrial production (the EU average is around 20%). In the Czech Republic, there are manufacturers of many machine tools, which should be compatible with Industry 4.0 solutions – without the Digital Twin accompanying any tool, those machine tools are not yet competitive on the market . That is why CIIRC is putting a lot of effort into the development of Digital Twin technologies and especially standards. And Czech SMEs are eager to get these solutions.

Up until the 1980s,  industry just manufactured products. In connection with the internet paradigm, the products themselves are becoming the carriers of additional, self-referential information (i.e. information about manuals, services, on potential extensions and dual uses). In connection with the industrial revolution appearing in the last decade, the information on each product can include its design, knowledge on processes to manufacture the product, information about additional or potentially additional capabilities of the product and the lifecycle management records, etc. This information  is concentrated in the Digital Twin to a larger and larger extent. Recently, the Digital Twins have started to play the key role in production. The product now is the physical output of the information being developed, stored, and modified in the Digital Twin. This fact completely changes the future vision of manufacturing – the most valuable asset in a factory is the data and knowledge contained in the Digital Twins. The well-structured information is playing a more and more dominant role over the physical processes in up-to-date manufacturing. This will significantly influence the nature of industry, will influence the structure of jobs (there will be far fewer manual workers, but more knowledge and data engineers). The security issues connected with the necessary data sharing are not solved yet, and they represent a crucial challenge for manufacturing in the future.

CIIRC’s role is to support Czech SMEs to stay at the leading edge of manufacturing technology in Europe.

Exploring the Canadian AI Ecosystem: Edmonton & Montreal

Image source: https://i.udemycdn.com/course/750×422/1153742_e649.jpg

After organizing the “International Symposium on Applications of Artificial Intelligence” last fall, the GCCIR was approached by Edmonton Economic Development to provide some input about the AI landscape in Edmonton to RE•WORK (https://www.re-work.co/), a leading global events company specializing in AI and deep learning. Here is an excerpt of RE•WORK’s blog post on their discoveries about AI in Canada:

“Edmonton: The Home of Reinforcement Learning

Over the course of our exploration into AI in Edmonton, it became quickly apparent that their ground-up approach to progressing AI within the city has paid off. Reflected in the amount of new AI startups in the area and boom of applications to Richard Sutton’s reinforcement learning lab, Edmonton showcases vast amounts of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation effort. Students once (or still) affiliated with the Computer Science department at the University of Alberta (UoA) are being actively supported by the Canadian government and organizations including Alberta Innovates, Startup Edmonton and of course, Amii.

“The University of Alberta has been a leader in AI research for decades now. As the province looks to diversify its economy and grow industries in addition to, and complementary to, the oil and gas industry, AI has come to the fore as an area of strength we can draw upon. There is also increased interest and support coming from our municipal, provincial, and federal governments. This creates a perfect storm of a) growing demand from industry; b) world-class expertise to draw upon; and c) government support for development and application.” – Katelyn Petersen, Executive Director, German-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research

As Katelyn suggests, AI growth within Edmonton’s industries is a recent phenomenon. Once upon a time, UoA represented the whole AI ecosystem in Edmonton, thrust into the spotlight by prominent AI researchers, Richard Sutton, Michael Bowling, and Patrick Pilarski. Another remarkable Canadian professor, Jonathan Schaeffer, author of the checkers-playing program Chinook, the first computer program to win a human world championship, shared his thoughts on why their research in reinforcement learning underpins AI in Edmonton;

“Toronto and Montreal are concentrating on Deep Learning. Edmonton has Rich Sutton, so reinforcement learning is our expertise. I believe that reinforcement learning for computers, just like humans, is a critically important component of intelligence. To try something, make a mistake, and then modify your behaviour to reduce/eliminate the chances of the mistake happening again is powerful and general. The goal of AI research is AGI — Artificial General Intelligence. Surely and AGI computer will have reinforcement learning as part of its core” – Jonathan Schaeffer, Professor, University of Alberta

Also making significant waves in the AI field in Edmonton is Martha White, Assistant Professor of AI at UoA, CIFAR Chair, and Amii Fellow. As part of our Women in AI Podcast, Martha sat down with us to share her motivations and most recent work. Keep an eye out for the full conversation here, but in the meantime here is a sneak preview of what we discussed:

“One of the things I really love about reinforcement learning is that it is a very general formula for AI and gives a lot of room to incorporate many different types of techniques. It allows for a lot of innovation and allows you to think about many different ways that you could actually apply the algorithms that you are developing to a broad set of problems. I also think representation learning is one of the most fundamental questions in AI.” – Martha White, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta

Alongside this academic core of AI experts, it is undeniable the effects that Amii has had in expanding the AI community outwards into industry within Edmonton. During our visit, we sat down with Warren Johnston, Director of Amii Connects and Anna Koop, Director of Applied Machine Learning to discuss their core program areas, including Amii Explores, Connects, Educates & Innovates. As well as nurturing the next generation of AI experts in Edmonton, the team at Amii are leading the way in fostering partnerships between industry and academia; cohesively bringing together industry problems with research solutions in absolute harmony. When asking Warren about Amii’s latest contributions, he noted;

“With new programs like Amii Innovates and Amii Educates, we’re helping to translate our scientific and academic leadership into industry, helping businesses build in-house AI capabilities and encouraging AI literacy in Alberta’s workforce. Add to this, Alberta’s young and highly-educated population, and we have the necessary elements for a powerful AI research and economic engine. Edmonton, especially, is the kind of place where risk-taking is encouraged and where the community will rally around great organizations and good ideas.“ – Warren Johnston, Director, Amii Connects

Jonathan Schaeffer also shared his two cents with us on his predictions for specific industries who have a growing interest in developing an AI capability in Edmonton, out with the traditional sectors. He believes that we should keep a close eye on finance and gaming, in particular. For example, through a partnership with UoA, ATB Financial are investing heavily in AI and applying this technology across their business.

Alongside larger corporations such as ATB, there is a burgeoning AI startup scene in Edmonton and we were keen to investigate why. We spoke to Dornoosh of Medo.ai, an AI-Augmented 3D Ultrasound platform, who emigrated from Singapore to Edmonton in 2015.

“A startup company does not mean anything without its people. Finding well-educated talents in Edmonton is relatively easier than anywhere else. This pleasant opportunity is further enriched by the active collaboration of UofA and the industry. At the UofA, students are encouraged to apply for internship positions at startup to apply their knowledge into solving real-world problems. The community has a very important role in the culture here in Edmonton and as an entrepreneur one can heavily count on the support he/she can receive from the community.” Dornoosh Zonoobi, Co-Founder, Medo.ai

Our time in Edmonton only further confirmed to us that the city has cemented itself as a center for AI research, and we are excited to see how corporations in Edmonton adapt to utilizing machine learning in the future. However, it was time for us to check in on the latest news in Montreal, also a popular destination with startups and tech giants – Facebook, Samsung, Denso, IBM, Ubisoft, Google, and Thales to name a few – alike.”

Read the full article here.

Europe United? – The EU in times of BREXIT

Europe United

Image source: https://www.united-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/shutterstock_627715520_kl2.jpg


We are only one month away from BREXIT (the United Kingdom leaving the European Union). It will be the first and only major break within the EU since its formal creation in 1945, an undertaking aimed at  ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighboring European countries that culminated in the Second World War. The six founding countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – started to further unite the member nations economically and politically in the 1950s by setting up the European Coal and Steel Community and signing the Treaty of Rome that created the European Economic Community. Allowing the founding countries to trade freely amongst themselves strengthened the economy, which attracted further countries to join the union in the 1970s, including the United Kingdom (cf. “The History of the European Union”).

Over the ensuing decades the European Union grew significantly in size and number of member states, gradually allowing people to travel freely within the EU based on the Schengen agreements, introducing its own new currency, and establishing several EU institutions, such as the European Central Bank. Also, internationally, the EU grew into an important economic and political leader. However,  both real and perceived hardships stemming from the  refugee crisis of 2015 have  positioned many EU member states further to the right on the political spectrum, and both left and right extremist movements threatening the union’s integrity are on the rise.

BREXIT will be the biggest and most impactful aftermath of the refugee crisis, with a successful ‘Leave’ campaign in Britain and the rest of the United Kingdom. Starting in 2016, the ‘Leave’ supporters campaigned primarily on issues relating to sovereignty and migration. When the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the union was characterized by strong economic growth in the years after the Second World War. “The EU of 2016 by contrast has been hit by a series of extremely damaging blows: the economic crisis of 2008 [which left Greece on the verge of insolvency and resulted in a number of support fonts to re-stabilize the country]; the self-inflicted damage from failure to deal with the flaws of the euro following the crisis; Russian success in upsetting the post-cold war balance of power in Europe; terrorist attacks from ISIS and immense migration flows into the Union” (Riley and Ghilès). The blows cut deep and created a number of anti-establishment and anti-EU political forces across the member states. BREXIT may likely empower further anti-EU political movements, but there are also indications that the rest of the EU is moving closer together.

For one, there is the Treaty of Aachen, signed between Germany and France on January 22nd, 2019. It is a renewed treaty of friendship between the two countries. The treaty sends the signal of a strong, sovereign and sustainable European Union, with its biggest and economically strongest member states working even closer together. Politically, Germany and France aim at collaborating very closely and thus becoming a role model within Europe and the EU. Regular consultation meetings before EU meetings are intended for both countries to form joint political positions and further their bilateral collaboration. With the formation of a joint Franco-German Defence and Security Council, both countries assure one another mutual military and political support. Establishing a joint Franco-German military force and defence culture, is the two countries’ first input toward the EU’s goal of creating a joint European Armed Forces (cf. “Vertag von Aachen” 1).

Industry projects are also being created that aim to further unite Europe and keep the idea of a united Europe alive. “Experiencing Europe” is one of these projects. The project is based on an initiative started at Continental AG. Now, “[a] total of eight companies [] offer unemployed young Germans short internships in neighbouring European countries” (Göbel 19). According to Ariane Reinhart,  member of the Executive Board at Continental, the goal of the project is “to draw attention to promising but unfamiliar jobs and simultaneously inspire enthusiasm for Europe. That works best through personal experience of Europe and meeting other Europeans”. The internships can provide  participants with surprising revelations. From learning how technologically advanced Eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Romania, are to realizing how unequal wage levels across Europe often still are, the internship participants quickly see the benefits of “Experiencing Europe” and in most cases are inspired “to get to know far more European cultures” (Göbel 19).

Whatever BREXIT may bring at the end of March, it is hopeful to see so many forces among the remaining member states working to move the EU forward and see it prosper.


Göbel, Johannes. “Commitment to a Citizens’ Europe.” Deutschland Edition, FAZIT Communication GmbH, 26 Oct. 2018, pp. 18–19.

Riley, Alan, and Francis Ghilès. “Brexit: Causes and Consequences.” CIDOB, Oct. 2016, www.cidob.org/publicaciones/serie_de_publicacion/notes_internacionals/n1_159/brexit_causes_and_consequences.

“The History of the European Union – European Union – European Commission.” European Union, Publications Office of the European Union, 24 Jan. 2019, europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/history_en.

“Vertrag von Aachen soll Freundschaft stärken.” Albertaner, 1 Feb. 2019, pp. 1–2.

Interview with Roderick Szarka


Rod is an industry professional with a successful track record in research and development, sales team management, business development and corporate marketing. His first 16 years of his career were in Research & Development developing pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices with ChemBioMed, Cytovax Technologies and Alberta Research Council respectively. Rod is an inventor on 2 medical device patents and author on 13 peer-reviewed scientific papers.  Following his successful tenure at the bench, the next 15 years, Rod took on increasing roles of Business Development at Global IQ, a CRO conducting human clinical trials, QSV, a GMP manufacturer for biologics and as VP of Business Development for Exciton Technologies, a medical device company developing silver wound bandages.  At Keystone Labs, he was grown the cannabis business through regulated testing services and development of KEY-BOX across Canada and leads the company’s corporate marketing initiatives.

Rod holds a BSc degree (Specialization in Biochemistry) from the University of Alberta.


1. You are the Vice President of Keystone Labs. Can you tell us more about Keystone Labs and what you do?

Keystone Labs Inc. is a Health Canada accredited laboratory focused on providing quality third-party microbiological and analytical testing located in Edmonton, Alberta.  Established in 2005 with a Health Canada Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Drug Establishment License (DEL), Keystone’s initial focus was to meet the requirements for regulated testing for the Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, and Nutraceutical industries.  Our regulated testing and validation meets the requirements of regulatory boards in Canada (Health Canada), the EU, Japan and the United States (FDA).  In August 2015, Keystone Labs acquired a Health Canada Controlled Substance License to conduct cannabis testing for authorized and regulated cannabis sources.  The unique combination of a Health Canada Controlled Substance License combined with a Health Canada DEL, is formal validation that Keystone has built a reputation for providing reliable, trustworthy data on the quality of cannabis products which are sold to consumers.  At this time, there are very few testing facilities across Canada with the same accreditations as Keystones Labs to address the highly-regulated testing requirements for cannabis, especially for exportation of cannabis products to EuropeOur goal is to meet the regulated testing needs of both producers and consumers by offering all users the knowledge, confidence and insurance that their cannabis and cannabis products are safe.

As VP, Business Development and Marketing, the primary responsibility in this role is to seek and establish opportunities to facilitate business growth, with the new expanding Canadian regulated cannabis industry and exportation of cannabis products to EuropeThis growth will focus and continue with Health Canada continuing to move forward with approval of Micro-Production cannabis facilities and the legalization of topicals, edibles and concentrates by October 2019.

2. Keystone developed a real-time test for medical cannabis. How does it work and what benefits does it provide? What are the different challenges that you meet in developing it?

To meet the untapped market of personal growers, in September 2016, Keystone Labs commercialized the KEY-BOX test kits to meet the demand for Cannabinoid testing of dry flower and extracted oils.  Through marketing efforts, national and local distribution agreements, KEY-BOX sales have grown each year.  The kit contains all the supplies needed to conduct a simple chemical procedure to isolate the cannabinoids from the dry flower into a sample liquid.  The client returns the sample to Keystone Labs.  Once received, the sample is analysed and the results are sent back to the client by e-mail.  The KEY-BOX test kit now offers the terpene analysis along with the cannabinoid profile for each sample.  These two tests analysis the complete profile for each cannabis sample and provide the information needed to specify unique strains and profiles especially for medical patients requiring specific components for their treatment.

We continued to get requests from our clients for a Real-Time cannabis test kit to provide the same quality of results with no turn-around time.  The Real-Time technology platform is based on “Lab-on-a-Chip” technology which will allow cannabis production facilities, personal growers and users the ability to measure the cannabis potency within minutes.  The device will use state-of-the-art microfluidic solid-state technology for detection.  These microchips will be incorporated into a cassette and onboard microfluidics technology will allow interaction of the client’s sample with the microchip technology.  The cassette will be inserted into a hand-held amplification device which will detect and quantitate the cannabinoids.  The information will be sent to a smartphone interactive App via Bluetooth for analysis and data display results.  The product launch is scheduled for September 2020.

3. How do you see the Canada-wide legalization of cannabis impacting your business?

The legalization of Cannabis in Canada has greatly impacted Keystone Labs in a very positive way.  Before legalization on October 17, 2018, Keystone Labs acquired a Health Canada Controlled Substance License to test legal medical Cannabis. There was a need for regulated testing facilities to analysis the cannabis for contaminates before release to medical cannabis patients.  At that time, there were approximately 10-12 approved Licensed Producers (LP), currently there are 141 LPs across Canada.  After legalization, all cannabis products, dry flower and oils, require extensive analysis for contaminates and potency before release for sale.  For Keystone Labs, there are three key market segments – Domestic Licensed Production, Health Canada’s expanded licensing program and export to the World-wide market.  We continue to develop the domestic LP market.  Health Canada’s Expanded Licensing program includes new categories: Standard and Micro Processing, Micro Production and next year will also include edibles, topicals and concentrates.  With the combination of a Health Canada GMP DEL and Controlled Substance Licenses, Keystone Labs’ testing services are sought after to meet the high-level requirements for exporting cannabis products to Europe.  Canada is the first G7 country in the world to legalize cannabis, exporting will be critical to grow the cannabis industry globally.  Each of these new categories represent a new opportunity for business at Keystone Labs.

4. In contrast to the Canadian situation, only medical cannabis is legal in Germany. You are currently working together with the German company Mildendo GmbH. How do different legal frameworks influence international partnerships?   

The different cannabis legal frameworks in the two different countries will not be an issue.  The focus is to develop the microfluidics and chip development with Mildendo.  All the product development with cannabis testing will be conducted in Canada in the licensed Keystone Labs facility.  Once the product is commercialized, there will be no restrictions on the product for global sales as it is a personal test kit with no illegal materials.

5. How do you see the future of the cannabis industry and related markets evolving? What technological developments do you expect, or hope, to see in the near future?

As stated earlier, Canada is the first G7 country to legalize Cannabis and the world is watching.  This gives Canada an incredible opportunity to be a leader in this new industry in all aspects of cannabis.  This would include development of new technologies, products and development of clinical studies to produce key data for the medical community.  Germany may be the next G7 country to legalize cannabis.  This may be a great opportunity for the two countries to collaborate and become co-leaders in all aspects of this new industry.

2018 GCCIR Matchmaking Mission to Europe

graphic mission 2018

“Everyone was skeptical at first as the itinerary was tightly packed, but we managed to pull it off and had five very promising matchmaking symposia in Barcelona, Prague, Munich, Aachen and Cambridge.” – Katelyn Petersen, Executive Director of the GCCIR

With the inception of the Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund in April 2018, this year’s Matchmaking Mission aimed at covering a larger amount of European countries than ever before. This meant that planning of the mission started early in the spring. It took a lot of work deciding on the destinations and locations for this year’s Matchmaking Symposia, as well as looking for new matchmaking partners to organize the events in locations that all except for one (Munich) we had never visited with a delegation before. The new Matchmakers – Innoget, CzechInvest and Cambridge Network – that we found were amazing  to work with, and our existing partners – Zenit GmbH and TUMTech GmbH – did an exceptional job as they had done in previous years for our Matchmaking Missions to Germany.

At the five symposia, the 13 Albertan companies that joined this year’s Matchmaking Mission to Europe, had the opportunity to meet with approximately 300 representatives from companies and research organisations predominantly, but also federal and provincial governments and agencies. The symposium in Aachen, for which the GCCIR also worked with the IraSME Network, was a bigger partnering event in that it offered a large pool of  participating companies also from other European countries, such as Belgium, Austria, Croatia and Greece.

Further highlights of the mission included research visits to one of the Eurecat Technology Centres just outside of Barcelona, the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics, and Cybernetics in Prague, as well as cultural visits of the Christmas Market in Aachen and the Ayinger Brewery near Munich.

The feedback we have received so far from the Alberta participants was exceedingly positive and we are very optimistic that the mission will result in several high-quality funding applications.