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Navigating the waters of new technology

“Most of the time, we’re only focused on how our technology can further benefit our ship crews. Jennifer Smith, our Mitacs-Accelerate intern, brought a new perspective that expanded our thinking and evoked us to envision novel applications and advancements for our existing products.” - Randy Billard, Chief Technical Officer and Executive Vice President, Virtual Marine Technology Inc.

Virtual Marine Technology (VMT) is an SME that develops simulators for survival craft, fast response craft and high speed electronic navigation training.  Its goal is to improve the safety of personnel at sea by allowing trainees to practice in high risk emergency situations using a safe and effective simulation.  As a spin-off company from Memorial University of Newfoundland, VMT is grounded in research and constantly seeking ways to innovate. VMT currently employs 24 full time staff and is part of a growing simulation community in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We want to make our technology better, and you get better technology by engaging better people,” said Billard, who became a strong advocate for Mitacs-Accelerate after engaging in an internship with Jennifer Smith, a Master’s student from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial.  “These internships are a win-win for everyone involved.  The students apply their technology to a real industry need, which creates concrete outcomes for their research. Companies benefit from improved technology while mobilizing highly-qualified personnel to work with their team.”

Smith’s “Human Factors” project was the foundation of what became a lifelong relationship between Memorial, Chalmer’s University in Sweden and VMT.  First, she travelled to Chalmer’s University to explore how people there used VMT’s technology through one-on-one interviews, ship visits and extensive industry research.  She later returned to St. John’s, analyzed all she had learned and identified areas for further development – primarily in the areas of skills acquisition and knowledge transfer.

She then developed conceptual prototypes of improved simulations as well as a report on potential novel uses for VMT’s technology.  Her report outlined ways VMT’s training software could be used to do more than just train ship personnel.  “She took software that was primarily used for training and moved it into the realms of design and research tools” reported Billard.

VMT advises that other companies considering applying for Mitacs-Accelerate internships take advantage of the opportunity to “start a marriage” between their organization and a local university: “Universities want to get their research applied to real projects, and the companies always want to be on the cutting-edge. To those companies and researchers considering the Mitacs program, I highly suggest they make the jump,” said Billard.

During her internship, Smith built upon her past industry experience by expanding her knowledge of the marine simulation industry, broadening her domain of expertise and growing as a professional.  “The exposure I received from both Chalmer’s University and VMT allowed me to fully appreciate the challenges associated with the marine industry and the level of effort required to develop and commercialize marine training tools.  I now have an understanding of where my research fits in this industry and where I can use it to make the most meaningful impact,” said Smith.

Image: VMT


We would like to thank the Networks of Centres of Excellence’s IRDI Program, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Research and Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador for their support of this internship.