The Pulse: Jan. 18, 2022

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  • -16°C: Mainly sunny. Wind northwest 20 km/h gusting to 50 becoming light in the morning. High minus 16 with temperatures falling to minus 21 in the afternoon. Wind chill minus 28 in the morning and minus 22 in the afternoon. Risk of frostbite. (forecast)
  • 1,007: Alberta has 1,007 patients in hospital due to COVID-19, including 94 in intensive care. The province also reported 23 new deaths over the past 72 hours. (details)

Hyperspectral imaging

Wyvern raises US$4.5M, enters Y Combinator

By Emily Rendell-Watson

Edmonton-based space company Wyvern has been accepted into the Y Combinator technology accelerator, and has closed an oversubscribed seed round for US$2.25 million, led by MaC Venture Capital, in addition to US$2.25 million in pre-seed funding and support from the federal government.

"It feels absolutely unreal," CEO Christopher Robson said of the announcement.

"I remember walking to the (University of Alberta) every morning ... and I had no idea if I'd work in the space industry because it's Alberta. (Wyvern) only started a few years ago and all of a sudden we're launching satellites."

The startup plans to use the funds raised to launch its first three satellites, and "pave the way for commercial access to cost-effective imaging capabilities such as 5m shortwave-infrared (SWIR) in the coming years." SWIR is a spectrum of light that is useful in industries like mining, agriculture, and oil and gas.

"You just see so many things in that spectrum that you can't see with your eyes," Robson said. "You'd be able to see a methane plume, you'd be able to measure directly the moisture of the ground, and you'd be able to distinguish between the minerals in a mineral field, purely based off how they're how they're reflecting light. If you were a farmer, you could look at a field and tell what kind of crop it is just based off of this whole spectrum."

Several of Wyvern's founders got their start in the University of Alberta's AlbertaSat program — designing, building, launching, and operating the first "made-in Alberta" satellites.

Ian Mann is a professor in the department of physics at the University of Alberta and a faculty advisor for the AlbertaSat program. He was involved with the program when several of Wyvern's founders were participants, and told Taproot that it has been inspiring to watch them excel.

"It was a goal of the AlbertaSat program ... to create a hub for space innovation on the campus here in Edmonton, to create an interdisciplinary project which would train the next generation of scientists, engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs and who could become future leaders in the new space race," Mann said.

"The innovation to create Wyvern, with the goal of (bringing) game-changing space-based multispectral imaging from small satellites to the commercial market, is a beacon which I hope will attract future generations of students to a space future here in Alberta."

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By Doug Johnson

  • CBC Radio host and local food enthusiast Adrienne Pan passed away on Saturday at the age of 43. She had hosted the afternoon show Radio Active since 2018 but took leave in May 2021 to battle a serious illness. Pan reported on many different facets of Edmonton, and was mourned by colleagues and many around the city.
  • Concordia University students are upset that the school has eliminated the week-long break between semesters to make up for time lost during negotiations between teaching staff and the institution. An online petition with more than 1,800 signatures is asking for a repeal of the decision, which would see the break shortened to only the duration of the Family Day long weekend.
  • Five Edmonton public schools that are facing high demand are admitting students via lottery. Ward F trustee Julie Kusiek told CBC News a lack of funding for new schools is to blame. "We haven't been provided that in sufficient quantity, and now we're stuck in this situation where we have to figure out where all the students go," she said.
  • Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is "equally frustrated" with the icy state of Edmonton's streets, but noted that city crews are working hard to ensure they are safe and drivable. Crews are out almost every day (minus the extremely cold ones), and some things, like the raw amount of snow the city has seen, are out of their control — though he did concede the city could do better. In a news release, the city said it had called in additional employees on Sunday to prepare for the winter storm.
  • The city's updated Business Licence Bylaw, and associated fee schedule, is now in effect. Key changes include an option for a one- or two-year license, a discount for businesses that renew on time, and updated license categories.
  • Minor Hockey Week wrapped up on Jan. 16, and — despite many hurdles and 20 teams dropping out due to the pandemic — the organizers say that it went smoothly, all things considered.
  • Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was fined $300 for texting while in a school zone last March. The minister called Edmonton police chief Dale McFee about it, but the chief said that at no point did Madu ever ask for an out. Premier Jason Kenney tweeted late on Jan. 17 that Madu has been placed on leave of absence while an independent review is conducted. "I conveyed to him my profound disappointment in his decision," Kenney said. Sonya Savage will act as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General in the interim.
  • A study that looked at 11 million emergency room visits between 2012 and 2017 in Alberta found that First Nations people receive a lower quality of emergency care.
  • Albertans are fretting about their finances as the pandemic continues, and uncertainty about the future mounts. This is coupled with holiday bills becoming due soon and increases in interest rates.
A chart showing the growth of weekly on-demand transit boardings from April 26 to Nov. 22, 2021

On-demand transit seems to be catching on

By Karen Unland

An interim review of the bus network redesign shows growing use of on-demand transit since it was introduced last April to mitigate a decrease in regular service to parts of the city.

A report to be received by city council's executive committee on Jan. 19 indicates that weekly boardings grew to almost 6,000 per week by Nov. 22. The service allows users to book a trip on a shuttle through an app or telephones at some transit centres.

On-demand service is available in 37 neighbourhoods and at 16 seniors' residences, with an aim to provide "the right amount of service for areas that typically have lower demand, or are geographically isolated." So far, the neighbourhoods with the greatest demand are Westridge-Rio Terrace-Quesnell Heights in the west end; Hope Road-Edgemont on the western edge; Big Lake-Northwest Industrial; Cavanagh in the far south; and Avonmore-King Edward Park-Kenilworth in the southeast.

Another report is expected in the late fall examining whether the on-demand service should transition from delivery by a contractor to being a fully public service.

The bus network redesign put in place in April 2021 was the first major revision of the transit map since 1997. None of the candidates elected to city council the following October felt that it struck the right balance between frequency and coverage, according to their answers to the Taproot Survey. More than 50 service adjustments have been made since the launch, says the report, which notes that ridership has dropped significantly due to COVID-19 but is currently at its highest level since the initial pandemic restrictions in March 2020.