Living/Working

January 22, 2021

B.C. tech pivots into office gatekeeping amid pandemic

Firms repurposing their technology to service market for better workplace health and safety

Employees at meal-prep service Fresh Prep Foods Inc. must now check in at an AI-powered kiosk for a series of touchless health checks before being allowed to continue into the Vancouver facility | Submitted

About 10,000 meals flow out of Fresh Prep Foods Inc.’s production facility on Vancouver’s Victoria Drive each week.

The meal-kit service has seen an uptick in demand amid the pandemic and does not count itself among B.C. businesses with the luxury of sending most employees home to work.

“Being a meal-kit delivery food service that people are really relying and depending on right now means that we need to prioritize the health and safety of our staff to prevent interruptions in our service,” co-CEO Becky Brauer told BIV.

In a bid to mitigate health concerns at the busy workplace, Fresh Prep turned to Vancouver’s Intuitive AI (Intuitive Inc.) for hygiene help.

Anyone entering Fresh Prep’s facility now is greeted by an “Oscar Hygiene” terminal featuring a display with a camera at the top and hand-sanitization unit below.

The display may prompt visitors to sanitize their hands or answer a symptom questionnaire, while a thermal camera confirms their temperature before checking them in and reminding users to put on a face mask.

Brauer recalled that prior to Oscar’s December installation, staff had to check in at a single access point and fill out the necessary paperwork before entering the premises.

“When you have a lot of people checking into a building in a short period of time, you can quickly start to see things like queues forming and lineups, and that’s just not good for your COVID safety plan,” she said.

Intuitive AI got its start deploying scanning devices backed by artificial intelligence in locations such as Vancouver International Airport and Simon Fraser University to visually identify the difference between recycling and trash.

The devices, which feature cameras and large displays attached to garbage and recycling bins, can then direct users to the proper bin in which to place discarded items when they approach.

Intuitive AI’s investors had recognized the potential for the technology backing those devices to influence hygiene behaviour in hospitals as medical professionals walked into different spaces.

“That’s something that they were nudging us towards, and we were already working towards a solution for hand hygiene. And then COVID happened,” Intuitive AI CEO Hassan Murad told BIV.

Work on the R&D project accelerated at the height of the pandemic, and the company partnered with Providence Health Care in Vancouver to begin using Oscar Hygiene in hospitals last spring.

In addition to hospitals, the company is now targeting warehouses and transportation companies. Murad would not disclose the cost of the device, but said the software services that facilitate Oscar Hygiene run for about $1 a day.

Before COVID-19, Traction Guest Inc. CEO Keith Metcalfe said his firm’s contactless screening technology was often considered a “nice-to-have” addition to the office.

But as a result of pandemic, he said, “We’ve started to really find companies coming to us saying, ‘We need to have this.’”

His Burnaby-based startup specializes in visitor management technology for companies like Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq:NFLX).

A Traction Guest survey in December revealed that 38% of employers plan to have 75% in-office capacity by summer 2021. That will increase demand for office health and safety measures.

“How do you manage the complexity of that?” Metcalfe said. “That’s where we come into play, and we don’t think that’s going away. We think the world has somewhat shifted about this whole notion that employers are going to make every employee come in 8 to 5.”

Guests who’ve already been invited to an office via Traction’s platform receive an email with all safety requirements and other details of their visit.

Visitors will need to click on a link that takes them to a registration portal. They can then use their smartphone to scan in on a company iPad without touching any surfaces.

The registration portal, accessed through a web application, takes visitors to a company’s customized website that might do everything from requiring visitors to sign documents to watching a safety video before being permitted to enter.

Meanwhile, Murad said once the pandemic winds down, the Oscar Hygiene devices could be converted into the trash-and-recycling sorting units the company was originally known for.

Technology repurposing has also led to the development of other scanning devices from B.C. companies.

Vancouver’s Tevano Systems Inc. was previously best known for specializing in contactless payment systems.

Last November, it began deploying its Health Shield devices for people visiting sites such as food-distribution plants or transportation hubs.

The scanning devices, which cost less than $2,000 per unit, use thermal imaging for temperature checks and AI-powered facial recognition to determine if users are wearing face masks.

A display screen can prompt users with further instructions based on the results of the scans.

“We realized that we had the essential tool sets as a platform in place. So by adopting this technology and coding so that we can then plug into that [Health Shield device], we were able to really accelerate our ability to get this product to market,” CEO David Bajwa said.

Even after the pandemic ends, he said health concerns will persist around the spread of other diseases, so Tevano is also targeting assisted-living facilities with the devices.

Bajwa also believes that the presence of these types of scanning devices can act as a deterrent to people who may wish to enter buildings even if they know they’re feeling ill, likening it to people who would leave weapons at home knowing they have to go through a metal detector at an airport.

“We’re going to see a lot more adoption of technologies that are going to be able to allow everybody to get back to … as normal as they can [be],” he said. •

 
Leading

Stalled vaccine, Biden speed bump on Trudeau’s re-election road

Justin Trudeau deserves credit for determining the pandemic was his moment of calling, of his resurrection, of his opportunity to etch himself into Canadian history as his father had.

Let’s not go too far for the time being, though. There is a detour to discuss.

We should remember Canada was slow off the mark with COVID-19 assistance. People and businesses were sent to the curb or ghosted, and it was weeks before then-finance minister Bill Morneau announced, then amended, then refined the federal support that arrived late to the party. Yet Trudeau redeemed rather swiftly, and once the Kielburger brothers were yesterday’s news he asserted himself as no western leader has in devoting his government’s all into refilling a void of lost personal income and corporate cash flow.

The Conservative opposition was in basic shambles, the NDP was salivating at riding the spending train as minority government baggage, so nothing stood to stop him. When we review the year, who else, after all, doubled spending and devoted such a slab of gross domestic product? Who else seems willing to stay that course, even if the country’s balance sheet looks in respects Third Worldly? Thank heavens for low interest rates.

Trudeau watched as New Brunswick’s provincial government renewed its mandate in the midst of coronavirus, as British Columbia’s shed minority status frustrations to gain agency with a wide representational edge, and as even repugnant Donald Trump nearly earned re-election despite handling the delicate pandemic as an anxious dog handles a squeaky chew toy.

Only Trump had to actually stage an election – that pesky Constitution was something he must have asked about bypassing, given his other attempted aversions. The others were mid-mandate opportunists, but voters flocked. They were being financed well in crisis, and they rewarded with replenishment.

And Trudeau must have thought – might even be thinking – if he can peel the New Democrats off his back and get the more solid third mandate. If only.

Problem is twofold: the new vaccine and the new American president. The former is not going as intended, dismayingly; the latter is, dismayingly.

The militaristic requirement of disbursing the world’s fastest-created vaccine against the century’s most virulent health menace is something few could have expected to run like salmon on the Fraser. The best laid plans are waylaid of late. The situation is hardly campaign-friendly.

Pfizer Inc.’s saviour, as the first vaccine to be approved, is also first to be blamed when the pandemic does not disappear overnight.

Trudeau and team assumed a mellifluous distribution, both from the Big Pharma maker and the provincial dispensers. Ha!

Then there is president 46. Almost any carbon-based form of life would improve upon an incumbent who defies eclipses, denies climate change and calls university-educated officials to overturn electoral colleges. Hold on, though: those who brought Joe Biden to the party are the ones he will dance with, and Canada is going to be at the side of the darkened room nursing its glass of punch for the time being. Double Ha!

The Albertan leadership, momentarily leavened by Trump’s gesture to Big Oil in proceeding with the project, forgot that Barack Obama with Biden in tow were the original Kibosh Kidz on the Keystone XL pipeline.

And, waiting as Robin to the pipeline-killing Batman is this Buy America mantra, this version 2.0 of Make America Great Again that Biden would decry as malarkey if weren’t so crucial to his base. Ontario and Quebec, notable for their populations and House of Commons seats, are soon to wonder what hit them when Biden signals appeasement of the manufacturing states that made him the world’s most powerful person, next to Jeff Bezos. It may dissipate in time and become America Buy instead of Buy America, but for now it is fashionable to fantasize on repatriating sub-minimum-wage labour abroad for middle-class jobs domestically. Such is idealism and innumeracy.

I’m no wizard, but it doesn’t take one to realize that these two factors dampen the spring election Trudeau contemplates. How do you stickhandle your ineffectiveness with 46 without running against him? How do you crow about your pandemic ministering if you can’t muster a rollout of the cure?

Things change, and sometimes we should be grateful for that. But if a week is an eternity in politics, even a couple of bad days are a lifetime. Our prime minister must now look at the slow-to-move vaccinations and the fast-to-move presidency and wonder how he persuades the country for a new term when he can’t determine, much less direct neither’s next moves.

It would be a campaign without agency on the central issues of our public and economic health, of aggrieved unvaccinated Canadians hearing that the new American president is no soft touch. Six or so such campaign weeks in politics can send you packing. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

 
Spending

This new dining event brings together Asian restaurants in Vancouver and Richmond to support health care

Special menus and dishes, delicious gift sets, and more ways to enjoy great eats and help a worthy cause.

Heritage Asian Eatery in Vancouver is taking part in the Lunar New Year dining fundraiser Dining for the Feast of Fortune | Photo: Courtesy Chinese Restaurant Awards

A new dining event that will mark the Lunar New Year is a great opportunity to eat delicious food from some of Vancouver's top Asian restaurants while supporting a worthy cause.

Called Dining for the Feast of Fortune, the new dining series comes from the team at the Chinese Restaurant Awards and is raising funds for the future of health care – new St. Paul’s at the Jim Pattison Medical Centre.

"Since 2015, Chinese Restaurant Awards has showcased culinary excellence at the annual Scotiabank Feast of Fortune event for St. Paul’s Foundation," explain organizers. "This year, the Awards and St. Paul’s Foundation wish to take this fundraiser to the next level by inviting the dining public to gift and taste this unique and first-of-its-kind dining series and celebrate the Lunar New Year with a meaningful mission."

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Tiger Prawns with Eggplant is one of the dishes on the Dining for the Feast of Fortune menu at Bamboo Grove in Richmond. Photo courtesy Chinese Restaurant Awards

Diners will find exclusive lunch and dinner menus at several local restaurants available for dine-in or take-out from Monday, February 8 through Sunday, February 21. Participating establishments include one of Richmond's oldest Chinese restaurants, Bamboo Grove, which is featuring among its dishes their award-winning "Pork Stomach & White Pepper Long-Boiled Soup" and Vancouver's Torafuku, where chef-owner Steve Kuan is presenting his “east meets west’ special dinner menu.

You'll find the following restaurants in Vancouver and Richmond taking part in the Dining for the Feast of Fortune:

  • Bamboo Grove Restaurant
  • Fortune Terrace Chinese Cuisine
  • Heritage Asian Eatery
  • Hotpot Palace
  • JOY CAFÉ by Fortune Terrace
  • Po Kong Vegetarian Restaurant
  • The Fish Man
  • Torafuku

Menus and more details are available online

Dining for the Feast of Fortune is also offering a couple of other ways to help out beyond you ordering a meal to enjoy out or at home. Dynasty Seafood Restaurant is offering a limited quantity of its Premium Artisan XO Sauce. Priced at $35 per jar, the restaurant is donating 25% of sales to the new St. Paul’s Foundation. Pick-up for orders of the special sauce begins Feb. 1. 

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Little Fox Bakehouse in Vancouver has a special Year of the Ox sweet treat gift set. Photo courtesy Chinese Restaurant Awards

Additionally, the delectable Little Fox Bakehouse in Richmond has a “Year of the Ox” Macaron Set. This exclusive gift box includes a black sesame macaron to highlight the Year of the Ox, a large mango macaron, as well as three shortbread flavours: cashew, matcha, and black sesame. Priced at $16 per box, $3 profit of each box will be donated to the new St. Paul’s at the Jim Pattison Medical Centre. While you're picking up your gift box at Little Fox, be sure to add on some of the bakery's fantastic croissants to your order; look for fun flavours like bubble tea, among many others. 

As one further way to take part, all of the participating restaurants, including Dynasty Seafood, are selling $100 gift certificates, of which $25 of each sold will be donated. Celebrate the Year of the Ox by giving the gift of dining out to be enjoyed as we move into spring.

Vancouver Is Awesome

 

 
Spending

Actor from “Kim’s Convenience” will host acting workshops at Richmond organization

Students aged seven to 19 interested in acting and improving their communication skills are welcome to join the acting workshop with James Yi

Award-nominated James Yi will host acting workshops this year | Photo: Submitted

Actor James Yi from Kim’s Convenience, a hit CBC TV show featuring a Korean-Canadian family, will launch a series of acting workshops at a Richmond-based organization for the first time. 

Students aged seven to 19 interested in acting and improving their communication skills can join the acting workshop with Yi, explained Elizabeth Chau, principal and artistic director of Childlike Faith Academy (CFA), a local faith-based organization specializing in theatre arts.

“We are lucky to get Yi to teach at CFA because his experience benefits the whole community,” said Chau. “At the same time, having an acting workshop right now is perfect timing as everything has moved online since last year, which gives us more chances to present ourselves in front of the camera.”

CFA used to provide in-person theatre training and activities for children, but as the COVID-19 has shifted all classes online, kids have had to learn how to present themselves in front of a camera, explained Chau. Many children are excited to have classes with a TV star. 

The workshop, which starts on Jan. 23 and lasts for three hours every other week, will teach children how to use all five senses, better utilize their creativity and imagination and includes on-camera scene study. 

Chau told the Richmond News she met Yi at a church and discovered his passion about educating the next generation on acting. 

However, it’s been challenging for Chau to bring Yi into the program since he isn’t just busy as a professional actor but he is also an associate pastor at a church in Surrey. 

“His whole family is so talented. Yi’s wife has written music for kids and helped the church put on musical performances. And his daughter taught children how to dance while Yi was directing. They are really into raising the next generation,” said Chau. 

For more information about the workshops and the cost, visit: http://www.childlikefaithacademy.com/training.

Richmond News

 
Spending

There used to be a gas station on the corner of Granville and Broadway

Back when leaded gasoline was a thing

Vancouver service station attendants - CVA Trans P2City of Vancouver Archives

Six Imperial Oil Company Ltd. service station attendants line up posed and ready to assist motorists in this World War I-era photograph, taken between 1917 and 1919. 

As with most businesses during the First World War, female workers filled roles vacated by men serving in the War.

This particular service station was located on the southeast corner of West Broadway and Granville Streets, and known as the No. 2 Imperial Oil Company station, No. 1 being located at Cambie and Smithe. 

The No. 2 Station had opened around 1916. At the time this photograph was taken, there were very few service stations in Vancouver; a total of four according to the City’s first Archivist, Major Matthews, who annotated a print of this photograph in the Archives. 

This service station persisted until 1929, when it was replaced by the Gothic-inspired Dick Building that still stands as a heritage designated site in the city.

See more archival photos on the City of Vancouver Archives' website

Vancouver Is Awesome

 
Exploring

What are we reading? January 21, 2021

Getty Images

Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web

 

Jeremy Hainsworth, reporter:

Hitler: A Life by Peter Longerich. A weighty volume on a subject needing no introduction. Longerich starts saying his work is an attempt to examine the German dictator in autonomous role as an active politician. The author’s previous works on Nazis include highly detailed lives of Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler and Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

 

Mark Falkenberg, deputy managing editor:

One of the biggest consequences of Joe Biden’s presidency in the U.S. will come from his sharp turn on climate policy, as acknowledged by New York magazine’s David Wallace-Wells: “The world’s most conspicuous climate villain has been deposed, and though Biden was hardly the first choice of environmentalists, his victory signals an effective end to the age of denial and the probable beginning of a new era of climate realism, with fights for progress shaped as much by choices as by first principles.” – New York

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/climate-change-after-pandemic.html

 

A look at the U.S. Capitol insurrection through the lens of hundreds of videos posted on the pro-Trump platform Parler. ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis singles out what is most disturbing about the images: “There undoubtedly were some dangerous organized elements within the mob that attacked the Capitol. But what is scariest about these videos is that they show the damage that can be done by a crowd of unorganized Americans goaded and abetted by the leaders of an organized political party.” – ProPublica

https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-the-capitol-riot-what-the-parler-videos-reveal

 

Timothy Renshaw, managing editor:

Pandemic pain now disrupting the shopping sprees for the self-indulgent and idle rich as the global luxury goods market suffers a few body blows on Easy Street. However, before crowd-sourcing campaigns are launched to prop up the vendors of lavish goods for people with too much money, the billions are predicted to return by the wheel-barrow load next year and beyond. – Finaria

https://www.finaria.it/pr/luxury-goods-market-revenue-to-jump-by-28-and-hit-366b-by-2023/

 

In other hogs-at-the trough news, Bitcoin's daily energy consumption just for transactions is now estimated to be bouncing around the US$25 million mark. Estimates have its energy overall consumption equalling that of Switzerland. – Trading Platforms

https://tradingplatforms.com/it-costs-25-million-daily-in-electricity-to-process-bitcoin-transactions/

 

And legally – wonders the International Monetary Fund – is Bitcoin even money at all?

https://blogs.imf.org/2021/01/14/legally-speaking-is-digital-money-really-money/?