Want to avoid sunburn this summer? This U of T startup’s AI-powered sun-tracker can help

Not much bigger than a bottle cap, the device Neda Ghazi holds in her hand could have a significant impact on Canadians’ health.

It’s an ultraviolet light tracker, called the QSun, that clips to a T-shirt or sports bra and alerts the user when they’re about to get a sunburn – a leading cause of skin cancer.

Ghazi and her co-founder – and husband – Ali Monam developed the $99 device through their University of Toronto startup Comfable and recently raised nearly $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to fund its production.

“In Canada, one in seven Canadians develop skin cancer during their lifetime – mostly because of overexposure to sunlight,” Ghazi says.

“But it’s something we can avoid easily.”


QSun is a product of Comfable. Comfable is a dynamic and innovative tech company dedicated to promoting health, comfort, and sustainability.

Toronto startup invents device that can help stop sunburns

University of Toronto post-doctoral researchers Ali Monam and Neda Ghazi have made this possible with a sleek, AI-powered, wearable sun tracker that’s roughly the size of a bottle cap.

Called QSun, the device can be clipped to any piece of clothing or accessory. A companion app uses artificial intelligence to track sun exposure, vitamin D intake, and give users personalized sun safety recommendations based on their skin type.

When the device detects that you’re about to get a sunburn, it will warn you to seek shade or apply more sunscreen.

AI researcher outlines vision for ‘self-driving’ labs at U of T-Tsinghua University conference

The ability of artificial intelligence – and deep learning algorithms in particular – to recognize images has created much excitement in recent years, sparking a race to develop everything from self-driving cars to robotic assistants.

But Alán Aspuru-Guzik believes the mix of AI and chemistry could ultimately be even more important.

The former Harvard University researcher, who is joining the University of Toronto’s departments of chemistry and computer science this summer, explained to a packed auditorium at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy this week his vision of a “self-driving” laboratory, which can be used to develop new materials for applications ranging from smartphone screens to advanced battery technologies.

“I use AI to classify molecules into good or bad, and I use AI to dream [up] molecules and to control problems – to pick what is the next best experiment to do,” he said.

“In a sense we’re doing the same thing for molecular structures that people have done for pictures of animals and cats – we just believe that the molecular advances are more useful for humanity than the images.”

U of T startup draws Google’s interest by using AI to speed drug discovery

A biomedical startup founded by University of Toronto alumni has raised US$8 million from a group of investors that includes Montreal’s iNovia Capital and Google’s Gradient Ventures.

BenchSci, founded in 2015, uses artificial intelligence to scan millions of data points in published research papers in a bid to speed the drug discovery process.

“We think they’re going to have an outsized impact on both the biochemical world and on the Canadian entrepreneur community,” Ankit Jain, a founding partner at Gradient and director of engineering at Google, told the Globe and Mail.

The idea for BenchSci was hatched after Tom Leung, who did his PhD in epigenetics at U of T, struggled to find the best antibodies for his experiments. He built the company with fellow U of T researchers David Chen, Elvis Wianda and Liran Belenzon and received support from several U of T incubators and accelerators, including The Entrepreneurship Hatchery, Creative Destruction Lab and Health Innovation Hub (H2i), according to the company’s website.

U of T startups take home prizes at annual Ontario innovation conference

Startups from the University of Toronto won both major pitch competitions at this year’s Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery conference, an innovation-focused event that draws participants from across the province.

Luna Yu’s startup, Genecis EnviroTech, beat out four other finalists for a $20,000 prize in the social enterprise category, which included both non-profit and for-profit ventures. Genesis uses micro-organisms to turn restaurant food waste into biodegradable plastics that can be used to make food containers and 3D printing filament, among other products.

The other $20,000 prize winner was U of T’s Steadiwear, which has developed a tremor-dampening glove for patients with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor.

“At our stage, all of that money is going to manufacturing,” Mark Elias, Steadiwear’s co-founder and CEO, said shortly after accepting the award in front of a packed ballroom at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“It really helps us overcome some of these hurdles.”

Universities drive startup activity in Toronto-Waterloo corridor: Silicon Valley think tank

The Toronto-Waterloo corridor ranks as one of the world’s top 20 startup ecosystems thanks in part to leading computer science and engineering research at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, a recent Silicon Valley think tank report says.

The report, released earlier this month by Oakland, Calif.-based Startup Genome, surveys several different sectors of startup activity, from artificial intelligence to consumer electronics, and takes a “deep dive” into more than 40 startup hubs around the globe.

In the case of the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, the authors say the region “attracted international attention for its AI ecosystem” last year, noting Uber’s decision to start a Toronto research lab and the launch of the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

The annual report, which did not rank the clusters this year, considers the corridor’s other key strengths to be health and life sciences, fintech and advanced manufacturing.

U of T Engineering opens the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering officially opened the Myhal Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship on Friday.

Named in honour of the Myhal family – including George Myhal and his wife Rayla, two of Engineering’s most ardent supporters – the building will allow for collaboration across disciplines, and experiential learning, leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities. It includes flexible, technology enhanced active learning spaces, fabrication facilities to support both curricular and co-curricular design projects, and dedicated space for student clubs and teams.

“The Myhal Centre is where tomorrow’s solutions, technologies and industries will be born,” said Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Its state-of-the-art facilities will spark new multidisciplinary collaborations, foster rich learning experiences and create further opportunities to enhance how we develop the next generation of global engineering leaders.”

On Friday, Michael Wilson, chancellor of the University of Toronto, and more than 200 donors, alumni and friends joined Claire Kennedy, chair of the Governing Council, President Meric Gertler and Dean Amon for the official opening event.

How machine learning can help you predict court decisions

Machine learning is now able to analyze court decisions and predict how judges may respond in certain situations, based on an analysis of existing caselaw.

Artificial intelligence technology is currently available to analyze tax and employment caselaw, but it’s easy to see how this could be relevant to the insurance space as well – particularly in the claims area. Potential uses could include analysis of decisions around tort liability, for example, or accident benefits cases.

A tax law expert recently provided an illustration of how the technology works in a webinar Wednesday. Benjamin Alarie, CEO and co-founder of Blue J Legal, uses the artificial intelligence suite to predict how the courts may decide issues about things such as tax deductions.

For example, with tax season coming to an end in Canada, some clients may be curious about whether their home office expenses are deductible for income tax purposes. Alarie posed that exact question to machine learning software called Tax Foresight; the system concluded with almost absolute confidence that in one case, the expenses were deductible.

LegalTech is Building its Profile in the Professional Community

The legal landscape is changing. The onslaught of structured and unstructured data that needs to be researched, analyzed and applied to the myriad legal processes has been ripe for innovation. With the advent of AI, machine learning and cloud-based services, among other technologies, a historically risk-averse industry is now taking notice.

Three years ago Ryerson University was the first to establish the Legal Innovation Zone as part of its ever-expanding portfolio of tech incubators. In March of this year, Evichat won the Zone’s Artificial Intelligence Legal Challenge for its development of an AI social media eDiscovery tool. This year, the award was supported by the Ministry of the Attorney General. Second place went to Diligen, an AI contract review company; followed by Splyt, an automated online tool for managing divorce.

Chris Bentley, managing director, admits that the legal profession has tended to lag other industries in terms of adopting new technologies and processes. But things are changing. “Now we are seeing significant growth in legaltech and incubators such as One Eleven and MaRS contributing to the ecosystem. The bottom line is, there is a lot more going on. As a result, firms big and small, as well as large corporate legal departments, are starting to take notice and do some innovative things. The industry is feeding off a very strong tech community.”