By Stephen ClarkWhistleOut
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is the first and one of the best events of the year to show off innovative new tech. Gadgets from every facet of life are on display, from portable assistive devices like eSight Eyewear to innovations in water conservation from OtO and RainStick.
WhistleOut Canada attended CES virtually this year due to the ongoing pandemic, but we still had a chance to speak to some of these home-grown groundbreakers. Some, like Matias Keyboards, have been around for decades. Others are innovations fresh on the market. Here are six innovative Canadian pioneers we saw at CES 2022 this year.
Mercku specializes in Wi-Fi routers and remote network management for homes and businesses. The company’s flagship M6 wireless router includes premium features like Wi-Fi 6, advanced security options, and Wi-Fi motion-sensing while maintaining an economical price under $200 CAD. You can add several M6 devices to your home network for comprehensive mesh coverage and connect everything via the three 1Gbps Ethernet ports on each. The Mercku M6 supports EasyMesh R2 out of the box. Wireless mesh devices from any company that support this new Wi-Fi standard—now or in the future—will work seamlessly with a Mercku M6 home network.
The Mercku M6 retails for $189.99 and features a unique visual style that fits into your home decor. Available in white, black, or a brilliant red, the case features sharp angles that reflect modern furnishing. Most competitors use external antennas on premium routers, giving them a “bug-like” look. Unique transceiver technology in Mercku routers reduces electronic noise and enables a powerful internal antenna array. Canadians can purchase the company’s products through the Mercku.com storefront or retail locations like Staples, The Source, and Amazon.ca.
Mercku: The Canadian connection
Like many innovative tech companies in Canada, Mercku was born in Waterloo. Founder Yihong Qi has led the industry for decades with wireless technology innovations. An early employee at BlackBerry (then called “Research in Motion”), he has over 400 patents to his name. His noise reduction technology theory led to the extinction of external antennas on modern cell phones.
Mercku has business development and local representatives in more than a dozen countries on five continents. Production, engineering, and R&D duties are conducted locally in Waterloo, Ontario, and internationally in China. The company headquarters is in Toronto.
Mercku: Looking forward
An even more affordable router is already in production and will reach the marketplace within the first half of 2022. The new Mercku M6a uses a cheaper processor while delivering a lower price point. Some premium features—like advanced security—will be left out to meet the lower price, but the device will still offer EasyMesh R2. There are no short-term plans for Wi-Fi 6E devices, but Mercku expects to support the new wireless standard in 2023.
The company partners with internet service providers (ISPs)—including Start.ca—to provide a simple Wi-Fi solution for its customers’ home network (currently the older Mercku M2 router). Since the new M6 routers can provide customized network management solutions, ISPs in countries like Norway, Luxembourg, and Serbia offer the Mercku M6 with home internet subscriptions.
The company is also building on its Wireless Intelligence Sensing (WISe) technology. WISe uses wireless signals to access real-time biodata and sleep monitoring, among other applications.
While many of us dream of VR goggles that let us experience artificial worlds, eSight Eyewearproduces headsets that let people with visual impairments see what’s here and now. Early models were heavy, unbalanced, and required a cable linking to a computer and battery pack strapped around the user’s waist. The newest eSight 4 balances a battery on the back of the head with image enhancement hardware on the front, providing a more comfortable headset.
eSight Eyewear uses cameras, proprietary software, and customizable real-time image augmentation to overcome many common visibility issues. Although it weighs about 10 lbs, great care is applied with the eSight 4’s new “halo” design to balance the weight. This balance allows users to wear it throughout the day without experiencing fatigue.
eSight: The Canadian connection
Conrad Lewis, eSight’s founder, is a Canadian electrical engineer who wanted to create assistive technology for his two sisters with Stargardt’s Disease. Today, eSight helps over 4,000 people with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, and other common vision-based medical conditions. eSight Eyewear is internationally recognized with innovation awards but remains based in Toronto, Canada. The eSight 4 is available for sale in over a dozen countries worldwide.
eSight: Looking forward
The price of eSight Eyewear dropped by half over the last several years but still sits around $5,950 USD (~$7,500 CAD). There are many options in the U.S. to have part—or all—of the eSight 4 price covered for qualifying individuals. Financial assistance may be available from Veteran Affairs or state agencies (including Florida and Texas). Options are limited in Canada; the CNIB Foundation may be able to help, or eSight’s eMPOWER program can assist you with building a proposal for crowdfunding.
At CES 2022, eSight and Gentex announced a new partnership that will help make the platform “even more functional and accessible.” Combining eSight’s research and engineering with Gentex’s manufacturing capabilities, greater technological refinements, and more affordable prices will bring eSight Eyewear to many more who need it.
READY! Computer Corporation
Although it is a very niche product, the READY! Model 100 appeals to modern computer hobbyists, musicians, system administrators, and more. Designed as a completely customizable portable computer, it can use almost any single-board computer (SBC) from the affordable Raspberry Pi up to a more powerful (and pricey!) NUC 4×4 board.
Borne out of an interest in creating an all-in-one portable computer case, READY! launched its first product on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding endeavour raised $250,000 CAD without any pre-planning or community support, but coverage from major tech magazines and news sites fueled its success.
The READY! Model 100 is highly customizable at the time of purchase. It has an unusual 1920×480 (4:1 aspect ratio) built-in touchscreen display that works on any operating system without special drivers. A powerful 10-watt speaker system makes up for the screen’s diminutive size. There are a dozen D-type mounts on the back enabling USB, ethernet ports, and standard analog/digital audio-video connectors so you can hook up a full-size monitor and surround-sound system. The RGB keyboard is also fully compatible with Cherry MX key switches and various keycap colour selections.
If you understood all that, the READY! Model 100 is absolutely worth considering. If that was a bit too much techie-speak, jump ahead to the next Canadian CES company.
READY!: The Canadian connection
Jesse Lafleur created READY! Computer Corporation to provide an all-in-one portable computer that users can customize for their individual needs. He chose the city’s infamous raccoon as the mascot for the company based in Toronto, Ontario. He sees it as a “crafty animal” and representative of its users (and himself) who pick through trash and make do with what you can find.
Following the success of the Kickstarter campaign, the developers found themselves stuck during the pandemic with a critical shortage of electronics suppliers. Jesse changed his approach, and the team designed and built custom electronics, circuit boards, and a power management system.
READY!: Looking forward
The READY! Model 100 offers a design by computer enthusiasts for computer enthusiasts. As such, its build quality will withstand the tests of time. Since many of the components are modular, it’s easy to start with the basic package for $449 then upgrade over the years. If you missed out on the Kickstarter, the READY! is available to buy fully customized through the company’s website for immediate shipping.
Matias gained a worldwide reputation for producing high-quality keyboards with ALPS mechanical switches and wired keyboards for Macs. Despite the rise in popularity of flashy “gamer” keyboards that cost well over $200, there’s still a high demand for well-built, stylish models that fill the void when companies like Apple discontinue beloved peripherals.
While Apple moves more of its accessories to wireless connectivity and thinner profiles, customers who prefer the responsiveness, security, and comfort of a wired keyboard are often left seeking a third-party solution. Matias’ success for over three decades is due to “rescuing” these lost technologies.
The company also prides itself on personal customer service. While you could get a $50 keyboard off Amazon, if something goes wrong, then you’re probably out of luck. Matias customer support offers a personal response by phone or email to assist with any issues and is motivated to fix them to maintain its reputation. How Canadian is that?
Matias: The Canadian connection
Edgar Matias started the company in 1989. His mentor and university professor, Bill Buxton, guided him through the creation of a one-handed keyboard (still available for purchase). Today, the company operates out of Aurora, just north of Toronto, Ontario, and sells through resellers in dozens of countries around the world. The Matias online store defaults to US dollars, but you can switch it to Canadian dollars at the bottom of the page.
Matias: Looking forward
While companies will still discontinue beloved accessories, there will always be a market for Matias to sell replacements and alternatives. Many of its customers appreciate that a premium Mac keyboard’s quality, comfort, and security remain available. Matias continues to innovate with RGB backlighting, ergonomic designs, and unique colour options to better fit your decor than the classic aluminum-and-white-plastic design.
At its simplest, the OtO lawn sprinkler system is a smart irrigation system that requires minimal effort to install and maintain. More than that, OtO—pronounced like “auto”—tracks the weather to prevent overwatering, fertilizes the grass, and keeps mosquitoes away.
After installing at least one OtO smart sprinkler in your yard, use the app to map out the spray pattern. It’s a great alternative to burying several sprinkler heads, adjusting them manually, and maintaining them at the start and end of each season. Since the OtO sprinkler can aim the nozzle with impressive accuracy, there are no oversoaked patches of grass or wasted water on patio stones.
The OtO sprinkler just needs a water source and a Wi-Fi signal to operate. The system is fully solar-powered. Inside, there’s room for three proprietary cartridges you can buy directly from the company. The Lawn Food cartridge ($19.99 USD) fertilizes the grass with the right mix of nutrients and water. The “Stop the Bites” cartridge ($29.99 USD) contains an all-natural solution to repel mosquito and tick infestations. Each cartridge lasts 60-90 days.
OtO: The Canadian connection
Founder Ali Sabti conceived of OtO after buying a house and finding that he had little time to maintain the yard. In typical engineering fashion, he instead spent his time devising an automated solution. Once his neighbours spotted the innovative creation, he employed diverse Canadian talent in marketing, manufacturing, and more engineers to bring the OtO smart sprinkler to the market.
Shortly after unveiling the prototype, the world went into pandemic lockdown. Ali Sabti found the silver lining from a sudden uptick of consumer interest in lawn care. The OtO sprinkler system doesn’t necessarily cater to people with a green thumb. Instead, it’s for those who want a nice yard and need a solution that is simple to install, operate, and maintain. Ali finds that Canadians are particularly receptive to environmentally intelligent solutions like OtO.
OtO: Looking forward
The team continues to imagine new ways to reimagine irrigation systems. For example, tying a smart sprinkler system in with a security camera might give any trespassing critters a quick shower to scare them off. A lawn cleaner/deodorizer cartridge is also in the works for customers who have a pet that uses the yard for a washroom. A single sprinkler device costs $399 USD and is available on the OtO website.
With ever-increasing demands on energy and water consumption, the RainStick Shower reduces the use of both. By capturing, cleaning, and recirculating used water, the RainStick saves up to 80% of your water consumption. Since it’s recirculating hot water, that’s power saved that otherwise would have been needed to warm up more water.
If showering in greywater sounds unappealing to you, you’re not alone. However, the RainStick filters the water through a micron screen, sanitizes it with UV light, then combines it with fresh water to provide better flow than you’d get with water from the tap. When you’re ready for the final rinse, you can turn off the circulation and get clean water from the source.
The system requires installation by a professional and needs an electrical connection in addition to cold and hot water. A full bathroom renovation is the best time to consider installing the RainStick shower. Once it’s up and running, the Wi-Fi-enabled shower connects to an app on your phone to display water savings.
RainStick: The Canadian connection
Having grown up in the Okanagan Valley desert, founders Sean and Alisha McFetridge boast a heightened understanding of the importance of water conservation. Canadians are among the highest consumers of water in the world. By targeting the shower—one of the top 3 ways that water is used in the average home—they want to make it easier to reduce water consumption.
Sean and Alisha found the talented staff to make their idea a reality. Canada also has an ecosystem of accelerator programs that helped fund the development of RainStick.
RainStick: Looking Forward
The RainStick Shower is available for pre-order, but it’s not cheap. The appliance itself retails for $4,395 CAD and requires professional installation. However, saving 80% on your water and power bills compared to your old shower means a typical family can see a return on investment within a few years. The RainStick website features an ROI calculator to help you figure out how many years it takes to get your money back. Pre-order customers can choose between a standard or handheld showerhead when it launches later this year.